The temperature will go up and down for a few more weeks, but we’ve seen enough high temps in southern Canada to know riding season is just about here. Time to get your bike back on the road. But wait! Is it ready for the season ahead? And more important, are you ready for the season ahead?
How to get your motorcycle ready for spring
We’ve covered this before, and you can find a more in-depth guide here, but here are the basics. First off, see if the bike will actually start. Make sure the battery has a proper charge (use a trickle charger, not an over-powered automotive charger), make sure you’ve got fresh gas, make sure you’ve removed anything you’ve stuffed in the airbox to keep mice and other critters out, then hit the switch.
If the bike won’t start, make sure you’ve got a spark, then make sure you’ve got fuel getting to the engine. If you haven’t done so already, check your airbox to make sure there’s no obstruction. If you’re getting proper fuel, air, and spark, and it still won’t run, then you may want to seek expert opinion.
Changing the oil? It’s a good idea to do so in the spring, and the best time to do so is after the bike has warmed up from its first start.
Once you’re sure the bike will start, give it a good checking over before riding off. Is the chain slack set correctly? Are your tires in good shape? Does the switchgear all work properly? Are brakes working without problems — no binding cables or pads, or mushy levers? Do all turn signals, brake lights, headlights and the horn work? Are there any loose luggage racks, bodywork panels, or other bits? Are your wheel bearings in good shape?
If you removed your onboard toolkit for some reason during the winter, then make sure that’s re-stowed as well, and make sure all the tools are in it.
If everything checks out, congratulations! Go for a ride, and revel in your new-found freedom.
How to get yourself ready for spring
Most Canadian motorcyclists don’t ride from November until the end of March, so you may be a bit out of practice. Best to start off easy, then, and some parking lot drills might not be a bad idea. You can buy safety cones cheaply at the dollar store, and use them to set up a practice course; work on your stops and your slow-speed, tight-angle cornering, and you’ll feel much more comfortable once you’re on the streets. Do this with a friend, and it’s more fun.
Although the majority of motorcycle safety schools are about to be busy training new riders this time of year, some also offer refresher street riding courses to returning motorcyclists as well. If you live near a roadracing track, check to see if they have a training day running in the spring; not only will this scrape the rust off your riding ability very quickly, it will teach you new skills that you can put to good use all summer long. Many track schools offer something this time of year, and even if you don’t own a sportbike, you can likely find space to get out on the track. Some welcome any motorcycles into their schools, others offer schools specifically aimed at riders without sportbikes.
Off-road riding organizations and schools are also busy this time of year, offering all sorts of training for dirt bike riders. This is an excellent way to pick up new skills for adventure riding or dual-sport riding, but even if you ride street-only, you’ll still learn useful information. Even if you don’t learn anything new, you’ll still have fun renewing your existing skillset.
If there aren’t any riding schools nearby offering useful training, or you can’t afford them, then you can also watch instructional videos on YouTube, or even try the old-school information gathering technique known as “reading a book.” You can find more details here on some YouTube channels and books worth checking out.
One other thing: it’s worth going over your riding gear as well, to make sure all the zippers work, that your heated gear still works, and if you can figure out how to check the waterproofing, maybe do that as well.
What to watch out for
Riding in early spring comes with added risk, so watch out for this stuff:
Cars. Watch out for cars. Watch out for texting teens, senile seniors, distracted dads, crazed commuters, the whole lot of them. Cagers are always a danger, but they’re even worse in the spring, when they aren’t used to seeing motorcycles on the road.
Potholes. Watch out for potholes. Public works departments and your local DOT are always slow to fix the craters in our roads, and if you hit a deep hole mid-corner, it can put you on your backside. Even in a straight line, hitting a pothole can be enough of a bump to cause a crash, or damage to your bike.
Frost heaves. This is a big issue in some areas, much less in others. Frost heaves tend to be worst on deserted country roads, which also tend to be the most fun to ride. Nothing ruins that fun more than losing the bike’s front end in a curve thanks to a frost heave.
Sand. A lot of the sand the DOT spread all winter is still on the roads. If you’re on the lookout, sand isn’t a huge problem, but watch out if you’re riding at night, or if you have to do an emergency stop in an area that hasn’t been cleaned up yet.
Weather. Let’s face it, much of Canada isn’t safe from snow until at least mid-April, much later if you live in northern areas or if you live at high elevations. Cold rain can be almost as bad; you might have plenty of traction, but if you’re shivering because you’re soaked and the temperature is just above freezing, you are going to end up with hypothermia. Make sure you always check the weather before heading out, and if you’ve got room on the bike, it’s always a good idea to carry an extra layer and a rainsuit.