As the icicles on the trees — and, inevitably, in our nostrils start to melt — it can only mean that summer grows closer by the day. The weather is warming, the days are getting longer, and instinctively, as motorcyclists, we are counting the days till we can ride again. Some of us in more mild areas of this continent may have been riding year-round, but the majority of us are just starting our riding season. So how do we prepare for our first ride? Over the years, I’ve created a bit of a mental checklist. Although it’s not bulletproof, I find it often helps to set me up for the season ahead.
Condition of roads: My father always told me to wait until the street sweepers cleaned the roads — a lesson I sorely learned one day nine years ago, when I slid out in a sand-filled intersection on my first ride of the year. I was so excited to get out I didn’t even consider the possible conditions of the roads. Roads are filled with sand and salt leftover from the winter, which can not only cause slippery conditions but can also do damage to your machine.
Condition of your bike: Was it stored in a heated garage or outside under a tarp? Did you winterize your bike, or should you take some extra time to go over it, give it a fresh oil change and replace the fuel? I’m a big advocate of winterizing your bike properly and always going over the TCLOCK checklist (Tires and wheels; Controls; Lights and electronics; Oil and fluids, Chassis; Kickstand) before your first ride. Make sure there are no furry friends making homes in your airbox, something my dad experienced many years ago on his dirtbike. Take an extra moment to have a look at the condition of your tires: are they becoming hard and cracking in the sidewalls? It might be a good idea to throw some new rubber on your bike before the first ride.
Condition of your kit: After you’ve determined that the roads are clear, and your trusty steed is, well, trusty, have a look at your gear. Is it in good shape? Is it free of rips and tears, and did you wash it before storing it for the winter? Will it become saturated with water if it were to get wet? How do your boots look — are they cracked or are the soles worn out? How old is your helmet? If it’s more than five years old, you might want to consider replacing it. I also find the packing in my helmet tends to degrade over time, making the helmet not fit as well as it once did. If this happens, you can often purchase replacement pads.
Condition of your skills: This is perhaps the most important item on the list. Take account of yourself and your skill level coming into the season. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been riding — you can always improve your motorcycle skills. Sign up for a course or, even better, sign up for a course based on a new-to-you riding style. If you’re a sportbike rider, try dirtbiking. If you enjoy cruisers, try flat track. If you’re an adventure rider, try trials, and if you’re a dirtbike rider, try track riding. Crossing over the genres of riding is fun and can increase your skills and ability on a bike tenfold.
We tend to fall into the rut of complacency with our riding: the more seat time we have over the years, the more false confidence we gain in our ability. We unknowingly develop bad habits that could put us in danger while riding. Take the time to know your ability and track your progression, whether on the road, on the trails, or on the track. It’s one of the most valuable things you can do, and can possibly save your life.
On top of this, you may also find a new passion within motorcycling that wasn’t previously obvious to you. Step out of your boundaries and explore the incredible and diverse culture that is motorcycling. At the very least, you’re bound to make a couple of new friends who can offer different insights and opinions. Before you set out, take account of your focus levels and make sure you’re not distracted. You can even take the time to do some “mental imagery” as John Lewis explained so well in the March issue of Mojo.
Lastly, remember: motorists likely haven’t seen a motorcycle on the roads for many months now. They are not expecting to see you, so be aware of this, and keep an even larger distance from cars and other vehicles just to be safe. We are few in the world who get to experience such a great way of travel, so remember to be safe, stay focused, and have fun out there this summer.