Opinion: Get yourself ready to ride

If there’s just one thing that can be good about frickin’ COVID-19, it’s that riding your motorcycle is now seen as a healthy activity.

Out on the road, you’re several metres from any other riders, and if you’re All The Gear All The Time, then you’re wearing gloves and your full-face helmet has a built-in splash guard. Hey – the glass is half full, right?

You’re probably not worried about the price of gas for your bike, because all motorcycles are frugal with fuel, but a litre of Regular is down to 82 cents here in Southern Ontario. Twenty minutes north of me, at the Alderville First Nation Reserve, there was a gas price war on the weekend and a litre was down to less than 60 cents. That’s enough saved on a fill-up to buy lunch!

The snow on the ground is melting rapidly, so Mark took his Harley out for a ride.

You can’t sit inside the Tim’s these days, ignoring other riders on a different brand from you, but you can take your to-go coffee and sit outside and enjoy the sunshine of spring, which officially starts tomorrow. Even Quebecers can do this now, after the silly compulsory winter-tire rule lifted on Monday. That’s not so bad, is it?

We’ve had a few days of warm weather here and I’ve already been out riding on the Harley. I know it’s still frigid on the prairie and there are probably several weeks there yet to wait, but whatever snow is on the ground doesn’t have much longer before it melts.

So assuming you’ve read our Spring Checklist and your bike is ready for the season, you still have to make sure that you’re ready as a rider. Earlier this month, when the temperatures were in the teens in Toronto, there were at least two serious accidents involving motorcycles. I don’t know their causes, but it’s probably safe to say those riders hadn’t been out riding for a few months.

If you’re out of practice because your bike’s been in storage over the winter, then for your first few weeks of riding, you must remember:

• You’ll be rusty. All those instinctive reactions to grab a handful of brake or countersteer swerve out of the way won’t be instinctive, because you’ve not done them for months. Head over to a parking lot and practise for a while. If you’re a member of a club, this might be an organized affair on a Sunday because we’re all out of shape. If you’re not, maybe brush up beforehand by watching a video or reading an instructional book, or check out any of CMG’s helpful articles.

Traffic cones are cheap, and you can easily use them to set up your own practice course.

• Motorists won’t expect to see you. Half the battle of safe riding is in watching out for other vehicles on the road, but a big part of that is in recognizing that those drivers aren’t looking out for you, and especially not in these first few weeks of the season. They haven’t seen a motorcycle pull alongside them for months, so it will still be a surprise if they glance over and notice you. They’re not used to looking for single headlights and small single taillights, and no, you won’t be any safer with loud pipes on your bike. Grow up already.

• The roads will be slippery, with plenty of potholes. All that snow and ice had salt brine and sand spread across it through the winter, and now the snow’s melted, that loose surface is there on the asphalt, waiting to gradually wash away. There’ll be build-ups of sand on corners and at junctions and in the centre of the road for at least the first month of riding – watch out for them. And watch out for the inevitable fresh potholes from the freeze-thaw of spring.

• The temperatures will drop sharply when the sun goes down. You’re probably not planning a lengthy all-day ride just yet, but don’t be caught out – the balmy double-digit temperatures of a sunny afternoon will fall close to freezing as soon as the sun dips behind the trees. The air temperature itself is probably cold enough to warrant extra warm gear once the wind hits you, but be prepared and carry a sweater and maybe a scarf or thicker gloves. Your riding ability will be severely compromised if you’re fighting the cold.

Remember these simple guidelines and your first month of riding will be considerably safer, as well as more enjoyable. Then, come June, with the virus scare passed – hopefully – we can all start complaining about the heat and I’ll be writing about ATGATT. Looking forward to it!

2 thoughts on “Opinion: Get yourself ready to ride”

  1. Salt and sand aren’t the only traction issues. Cold tires don’t grip well. I saw a friend put his bike down once because of it. Don’t count on dragging your knees for a while yet.

  2. Excellent reminders, all of them. Thank you. I’ve always been a proponent of making the first ride of the year a practice run in an empty parking lot, or as I prefer early Sunday AM in an industial park with empty parking lots and streets, practicing things like emergency braking, last-minute object avoidance and low- speed manoeuvers like feet-up figure 8s in the width of a road along with the basics. A friend of who had always laughed at me over the suggestion went down and broke his wrist because his first ride of the year was in traffic and was out of practice.

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