No one really plans for it when they buy a new motorcycle, but with only two wheels to keep it upright, gravity is a motorcycle’s worst enemy. When a simple tip-over can cost hundreds to thousands to repair, many of us think about adding frame sliders to our motorcycles for protection.
Also called frame protectors, fairing protectors, crash bobbins, or whatever you want to call them, frame sliders are designed to reduce the amount of damage when the motorcycle meets the ground. The idea is that by having a cheap, easily replaceable slider puck on the bike, it will take most the damage in the event of a crash or tip-over. And by mounting the sliders to the bike through an engine bolt, the hope is it will disperse an impact through the engine instead of the frame taking most the force and cracking or bending.
But are they worth it? Will frame sliders save your bike when gravity wins or will it cost more harm in a crash?
What is the Use of Frame Sliders?
If motorcycles were intended to remain stationary, frame sliders are usually a good investment. A lot of stationary falls happen from moving the motorcycle in the garage, the kickstand accidentally folding up, or putting a foot down on a slippery surface at a stop. When a motorcycle falls or gets knocked over, most common damages are cracked plastics, bent levers, broken foot pegs, and scratches on exhausts, mirrors, or bar ends. Even the cheapest frame sliders on the market can help keep your bike from getting too badly damaged in a tip-over.
But motorcycles have wheels, a motor, and are designed to move. When you add speed and hundreds of pounds of mass, a lot can happen in a crash. A low-side crash from your wheels encountering gravel while leaned over in a sweeper is a lot more forgiving than a highside with your bike slamming onto the pavement. Even the most fancy crash protectors won’t help when there are trees, light poles, guardrails, and other vehicles for a motorcycle to collide with when things go sideways.
Longer or Shorter Frame Sliders
The length of a frame slider makes a big difference in its effectiveness. The motorcycle will very likely slide the best without a frame slider installed and there would be a bigger surface area to distribute the impact in a crash. But there would be nothing to keep the frame from being damaged and the motorcycle getting totaled out in a crash.
A longer slider means more of the bodywork and motorcycle stays off the ground. There will be more material to ground down in a slide. For a low speed crash or if the motorcycle gets tipped over, a longer frame slider offers more protection. But the price of this protection is a higher chance of the slider digging into the asphalt, dirt, or catching on something and sending the motorcycle cartwheeling end-over-end down the road.
For many track riders who are going at speeds into the triple digits, they tend to go with shorter sliders for maximum frame and engine protection. The shorter sliders are less likely to bend or snap off in a crash. They are also less likely to dig into the gravel traps in case a rider goes down in a corner and goes off the track. Short frame sliders may not do as good of a job to keep your fairings from getting road rash, but they’ll keep the expensive parts of the motorcycle like the frame and engine covers protected.
Cut or No-Cut Sliders
If you have a naked bike, the choice is easy. However, if you’ve just bought a brand new sportbike and you want to install frame sliders, you may need to do some cutting of your shiny new fairings. This seems counter-intuitive when there are no-cut kits available. Why would you go with a cut kit then?
When you buy the cut type of slider, the kit usually comes with the puck and longer engine bolts to mount the slider directly to the frame and through to the engine. This mounting method is more structurally solid. When the motorcycle makes impact in a crash, all the force is sent directly down through the slider.
The no-cut kit also has engine bolts and the puck, but adds a bracket to maneuver the puck around to an opening in the factory fairings. The bodywork doesn’t have to be permanently modified and the frame slider is easier to install. The downside with this method is that it adds an additional point of failure to the variables of what could happen in a crash. In a crash, there is a chance the bracket will snap on impact, rendering your frame protectors useless. The additional leverage from the bracket could also damage the frame where it is bolted in, which is exactly what you were hoping to prevent.
Types of Slider Materials
When choosing the type of slider to go with, not only do you need to decide on the length or the method of mounting, you also have the option on the type of puck that will come into contact with the ground.
Some people like the shiny, chromed out pieces made out of aluminum. The risk with this selection is that aluminum sliders won’t glide as smoothly along the pavement and are more likely to dig into the ground and send your bike tumbling and leaving behind a trail of broken pieces. Aluminum sliders also are stiffer and transfers more shock from the impact into the bike’s chassis.
Then there are carbon fiber frame sliders. Carbon fiber sliders look sexy, especially on a bike with other carbon fiber bits, but they have no abrasion or impact resistance. Carbon fiber is touted for its high strength to weight ratio, but it is also rigid and brittle – both qualities you don’t want in a frame slider. They are likely to shatter the second they hit the ground, so they’ll provide no protection afterwards.
Good sliders tend to be made of a plastic such as Delrin or ultra-high-molecular-weight-polyethylene (UHMWPE). Plastic will slide over the ground smoother and will also deform a bit on impact to take some of the impact forces.
Other points you’d want to consider is how the puck is mounted to the bike and its size. Many frame sliders are a round design and hollow with the bolt passing through the center. This means there is less material to ground down than a completely solid plastic slider that is mounted onto a base with a bolt from the side. A wider slider also provides a larger surface area to disperse an impact and has more material to abrade.
People like to say it’s not if you’ll drop your bike, but when. Now, not everyone will drop their bike. But it can happen to even the best and most careful motorcyclists. Don’t ask me how I know. I managed to drop mine twice from a standstill on the same day the second time I was out. At least I got my first (and second) drop out of the way. No damage thanks to sliders installed by the previous owner.
Dropping a motorcycle is most likely to happen when someone is new to riding and not being familiar with a bike while having a thousand other things on their mind. Sometimes it’s not even your fault with someone not seeing your motorcycle parked behind them and they floor it in reverse and knock it over.
In addition to frame sliders, there is a whole array of products available for crash protection. For sport bikes and naked bikes, there are axle sliders, swing arm sliders, case covers, fork sliders, and bar-end sliders. Stunters who are likely to drop their bikes often have put on full stunt cages. For cruisers and adventure bikes, there are engine guards and crash bars available.
In a motorcycle accident, there are no guarantees that your motorcycle will come out unscathed whether you have frame sliders installed or not. Should you decide frame sliders are something you want to look into, knowing what to look for and the range options out there will aid in choosing what best suits your style of riding.
Finally, sometimes the best option for protecting yourself for the unexpected is having insurance with full coverage.