Opinion: Spring training

Army National Guard motorcycle riders hone their skills during the Army Guard hosted Motorcycle Safety Foundation Sport-bike Rider Certification Course Jan. 30 at Fort Rucker, Ala. (Army photo courtesy of Fort Rucker Public Affairs) (Released)

There’s barely any snow on the ground here in the Toronto area and already the bikes are starting to come out. These are mostly the serious riders: the people who dress properly and treat their motorcycles responsibly. The people who wear runners and flappy T-shirts, or who use their bikes more as social introductions to other like-minded riders, probably won’t hit the road till mid-May.

The rest of us will start bringing our bikes out over the next few weeks, preparing them after a winter of storage for a season of riding. More important than changing the oil and lubricating the cables, however, is changing our mindset and shifting our focus. We’ve had several months of not making shoulder checks and relying on four-wheeled skid control, after all.

One of Zac’s pointers this week for improving your riding skills is to get in some practice at a parking lot, and this is never more valuable than in March and April. Some riding clubs will organize a morning for their members in a parking lot with some cones, and this usually ends up at a coffee shop for some bench racing; it’s also good, though, to just take yourself off for some quiet time and a reminder of your motorcycle. If there’s nobody looking, there’s no pressure to prove yourself, or to push yourself too far while you’re still rusty.

At this time of year, the roads are often sandy from months of spreading grit against the snow. Sand can be lethal if you’re not prepared for it, and you probably aren’t. Hit the front brake too hard over a patch of sand, on a motorcycle that’s not equipped with ABS, and the front wheel will lock and slip – you may well go down if you’ve spent the winter just stepping on the brake pedal and steering into the skid. Instead, take the time to practise some progressively harder braking in an empty parking lot, shifting your weight on the bike and the pressure on the lever and pedal. After a while, it’ll come naturally, but it won’t the first few times, so make sure the first few times are under your own terms in a safe area.

The true talent for riding comes when a novice starts operating the controls intuitively, and not having to think about it. For somebody who’s just started riding a motorcycle, it usually takes a few months before the lesser-used responses of emergency braking and swerve avoidance become automatic. It’s the same thing for an experienced rider who’s getting back on a motorcycle after several months away from riding – it’ll probably take a week or two for everything to click into place without having to think about it.

So watch the weather and get the bike ready, but don’t be cocky about your confidence. Take it easy for a month and remember that you’re out of practice, and that Canadian roads are especially challenging for bikes in the first weeks of spring. Get through this time safely and before you know it, we’ll all be complaining again about the heat and those riders in runners and flappy T-shirts.


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