Last week’s warm weather in southern Ontario had many riders out on the roads, twisting their throttles for the first time in months. The temperature hit 17 degrees where I am east of Toronto and while there was snow in the fields, the asphalt was clear and dry.
My bike was ready to go, with her oil changed, tires pumped, new battery charged, and everything checked over and approved from a major service over the winter. I rode for an hour through Grafton and Warkworth and up to Campbellford, where I paused and checked my phone. There was a text from my wife.
“Just read there was a collision this afternoon on Highway 2 involving a motorcycle,” she’d written. “It was near Grafton. Can you let me know it wasn’t you?”
I’d been on Hwy. 2 and I’d seen several riders and waved at them all. Maybe it was one of them, moments after I’d ridden through. A couple of cruisers, a big GS adventure bike, a small sport bike – everyone riding responsibly, enjoying the warmth rather than the power.
There were a few runoff patches across the road but the weather was far too warm for them to be slippery. They’d become dangerous later, when the sun went down. All the side roads were sandy at their junctions from the winter’s buildup, so I had to ride more carefully there, avoiding any lean. And the car drivers all knew to watch for motorcycles because there were so many of us out there.
So what happened that afternoon? I don’t know. To be honest, I don’t think anything too serious happened. My wife read a tweet and grew concerned, but I could find no record of a motorcycle collision that day, and the police could tell me of no incident when I called to ask. I think she was just worried because she knew it was my first true ride of the year.
The first ride of the season is always a greater risk for a motorcyclist, for many reasons. The roads are slippery, the weather is often too cool to be comfortable, and drivers are unused to looking out for bikes. On top of that, our riding skills are rusty. We’re not used to counter-steering past an unexpected object, or squeezing the front brake for an emergency stop, or shoulder-checking to supplement our crappy mirrors.
And the more advanced stuff? Techniques like flashing the brake light at a stop so the vehicle approaching from behind doesn’t confuse you for the car in front, or moving over to the right of the lane while riding so you can be seen more easily by an oncoming line of drivers? We might remember them on the first ride, or we might not. Probably not. There’s too much else to remember first before those skills move from practice to habit.
This all means that the first ride should be careful and considered, not the casual, last-minute decision that most of us make it. As in, “Whoa – 17 degrees! Let’s boost the battery and get out there!”
Ideally, as the gurus tell us, we should ride slowly and carefully to a nearby parking lot, put out some cones, and practise riding and turning and braking for the afternoon. Like that’s going to happen. It should, but after these long months of snow and darkness, you’re probably as impatient as I am to get the season into gear.
No, it’s all about attitude. Take it easy, not just for that first ride but for the first few rides. Remember that it takes time for the roads to become safer for motorcycles, both physically and mentally. You’ll probably be fine, but every year, somebody isn’t, and they never expected it. Don’t let it be you.