Opinion: The last ride

I met up with an old friend last week in a Toronto pub. I hadn’t seen Mike since before he moved with his wife to a job in San Diego five years ago, and I steeled myself to hear all about the perfect climate, and the garage full of year-round motorcycles, and the fabulous riding roads.

“I hate it!” he said. “Climate’s not everything, you know. We’re surrounded by people who only care about making money and spending money. We’ll leave in a couple of years – can’t wait.”

I thought about his words the next day when I went into my garage and got ready to take the Harley out for a last ride before preparing her for storage. I really don’t like that I can’t ride my motorcycle year round, especially when most of the rest of the world takes such a thing for granted; I’ve lived in countries where it doesn’t snow, and I never missed the months of slush and shovelling.

Zac knows all about riding in cold weather. Here he is last November, about to set off for home in New Brunswick from Mark’s house.

The last ride is a bit of a ritual. I wrap up warmly, plug in the electric vest and head out for a 60-to-160 kilometre loop by the lake, depending on the state of the roads.

At the end of the loop, a few minutes from home, I fill up the tank with non-ethanol Premium and go to the power wash to rinse all the dirt away. Then back in the garage, I drain the hot, thin oil and replace it with regular winter-weight oil, which I usually change again a couple of weeks into the spring. Regular oil changes don’t give a chance for crud to build up inside – that’s the key to healthy engine life.

This won’t always mark the end of the season, though. If the snow doesn’t fall and the weather doesn’t turn foul, I may well go for another last ride the next week, and the next week, and the next. I’ve ridden as late as Christmas, but my bike is too pretty to ride in wintry weather. Some people do – my neighbour never puts away his Honda Varadero, which has no chrome to pit – but there’s no pleasure in pushing it on a cruiser. That’s what dirt bikes are for.

You really don’t want to get caught out in wintry weather at the tail end of the riding season.

Eventually though, even in southern Ontario, I accept the inevitable and put away the bike. One last wipe down and waxing of the paint in the freezing garage, and then I park it on my motorcycle stand and raise both wheels off the floor. People say I don’t have to do this, because the concrete doesn’t really suck the moisture from the rubber and create flat spots on the tires, but I do it anyway because it kind of makes it all official. Then I throw a breathable cover over the bike and that’s that for another three or four months.

There’s a Harley under there, safe and snug and ready for spring.

Actually, even then, I’m not quite done. The cover will come off a few times whenever the winter all gets too much and I need to make sure the bike is okay. Which it always is, of course.

I took the last ride of 2018 last weekend, and with any luck, I’ll take it again next weekend, and the weekend after that, and I’ll really appreciate every moment, even when my face and fingers turn numb.

My friend Mike doesn’t get to do any of this. No – every day in San Diego is pretty much the same, and he gets to take his motorcycles for granted. And he’s surrounded by people who only care about making money and spending money. Of course, there’s good and bad to both – at least, that’s what I keep telling myself.


  1. Once I top up my tank with Premium, add the specified amount of stabilizer, I then run the bike for a few minutes so the ‘stabilzed’ fuel gets to run throughout the system.

  2. By the way, an additional point made by a reader is to ensure the gasoline in the tank does not contain ethanol, since ethanol can eat away at rubber and seals over time in storage. This has now been added to the original column, since it’s a good point. In practice, Premium fuel is sometimes higher in ethanol than Regular, but a rule of thumb is to avoid any gas with more than 10 per cent ethanol content. And use a fuel stabiliser – it can only do good if you use the recommended amount.

      • Thanks for that. Very interesting and a cause for concern. I see GM vehicles with a badge, “Flex Fuel” on occasion. I assume this is what they are referring to?

        • From what I understand, Flex Fuel can be up to 75% ethanol. Crappy fuel mileage, but cheap and not much emissions coming out the tail pipe.
          If you have an older carbureted motorcycle blended fuel a real issue because the ethanol/water/gasoline mixture turns to gum in the small jets and passageways when not stored properly. As Editor Mark suggests, use fuel stabilizer when winterizing to minimize the effects. And if you can, drain the float bowl completely.

    • May be worth keeping in mind that when filling up with premium at the pump there will likely be a decent volume of ethanol fuel already in the pump hose from the person who just filled up their car before you got there. That’s why I fill up my truck with premium first and then fill several jerry cans with non-ethanol contaminated premium fuel. Add stabilizer and fuel up the bikes from the jerry cans.

      I suppose this procedure may be like Mark’s compulsion to elevate the front tire above the concrete when it is likely not needed. Anyway, I sleep better knowing the fuel is at its best quality by following the above procedure.

Join the conversation!