For most of us when winter rolls around it generally means that bikes go into the moto lair for hibernation, leaving the rider with a case of PMS (parked motorcycle syndrome) during the ensuing winter months. For some folks who are fortunate like me due to geography, it's usually a very short time and for others it can be a very, very long time. Along with our bikes being put in hibernation our motorcycle skills go into hibernation for those few winter months, which means we have to re-activate them when we start up riding again.
First things first, before you go zinging off down the road in search of twisty moto zen, check your bike over, do a thorough pre-ride inspection to ensure everything is working as it's supposed to be. Make sure your insurance is up to date. I've met riders who've forgotten this little thing, only to be pulled over and issued a fine because of an expired sticker date on their licence tag - OOPS! For those using private insurance to enhance their basic insurance make sure it hasn't expired either, because that potentially means no bike or gear replacement value, it happened to a friend of mine and left them not so happy after an incident.
(You can be sure he was evicted in a hurry)
Now comes the human part of the equation, ask yourself this question: "Am I ready for this?" All the while thinking, "Well things may be a little rusty and I'll have to take it easy." You've been off your bike 6-7 months which means your body needs to get familiar with the bike and re-engage your muscle memory and kick the proverbial cob webs out of your riding skills to get road ready again. It comes back pretty quickly, but most riders will tell you their first couple of rides of the season are not their best. What you can do to help this along is to start out the season easy, go back to the basics, which means taking your bike to the lot and practicing basic skills like; friction zone, slow straight line riding, figure 8's, circles, and uturns. You also have to get used to the weight of your bike again, practicing slow speed skills is the perfect thing for doing that. Practice your starts & stops, remember "SMOOTH". Along with all the slow speed skills don't forget to practice quick stops. You never know when an emergency situation is going to require you to stop suddenly and be ready to quickly and efficiently get the bike moving again.
Handy little tip if you want to practice but need position markers, go to your local dollar store buy a bunch of tennis balls & cut them in half, they are perfect for this, they are portable & take up very little space when transporting.
Now that you have done the physical stuff of practicing and shaking the cob webs loose, remember to use your senses while out on the bike. Listen to your body, you've been off the bike for awhile, most people feel fatigue a little more acutely on their first few rides, due to environmental stressors of cold or the mental fatigue that comes along with riding in the craziness of traffic. 1000 mile iron butt rides are not the ideal way to start out, make it leisurely and stressless. Take breaks, stretch, hydrate and snack.
People forget about scanning their mirrors regularly, so it's good to get in the habit of checking your mirrors frequently. Shoulder checks often become sloppy and neglected, if not forgotten altogether. Knowing who is in your blind spot before a lane change is life saving. Sightlines are very important to motorcyclist, it's true what they say "look where you want to go" make sure you have your head up and are looking ahead, because if you are looking down that's where you will end up. New riders struggle with this a lot, but with time and concerted effort they get it. The other day I had a student who said "Wow at first I didn't believe it, but then I tried and it worked!"after that he had great Sightlines. Another little thing to remember are the turn signals, practice turning them on/off. Nothing is more frustrating than driving behind someone who has left them on, it makes you unpredictable to other road users and leaves them guessing about what you are going to do next.
Road condition is usually not the best in spring, we are potentially still dealing with frosty conditions which require sand/salt/gravel, this combined with cold will effect tire traction. Gravel and sand are biproducts of winter and you may notice a fair amount of it left on the road, particularly in corners and on the shoulder, riding through it can cause loss of traction, so be prepared. Oil and gunk build up on the road bed, remember the centre grease strip!
POTHOLES!!!! We've all encountered these nasty little buggers, winter is the breeding ground of spring potholes. Potholes have the potential to either be little nuisances or they can be bike or scooter eating monsters, because you can never tell how deep they are. Hopefully you will be scanning well ahead so you can avoid them.
Gearing up for your ride is just as important, you'll more than likely be needing a few extra layers because of variable weather conditions and temperatures. I have been out riding recently and gone from warm sun, to hail, to torrential rain in the blink of an eye. Nothing is worse than being cold, wet, and miserable, it takes away from your concentration and critical thinking, because all you can think about is how cold or wet you are. The same applies to summer riding, in warm weather think mesh gear. So in essence be prepared for any weather condition because Mother Nature likes to show us who's in charge at the beginning of riding season.
BE CONSPICUOUS! In spring car drivers are NOT looking for or expecting to see motorcycles or scooters in THEIR road space. Don't rely on other drivers to be practicing good road skills with shoulder/mirror checks or signals. The first words uttered by drivers at an accident scene involving a motorcycle are, "I didn't see them." BE VISIBLE! As a rider you are not doing yourself any favours by dressing in dark colours without reflectivity. Yup, you may look cool, but cool means nothing if you get hurt because someone didn't see you.
Along with wearing hi viz or brighter lighter coloured more visible riding gear there are other things you can do to enhance your visibility in traffic. Lane positioning is one of the best tools a motorcyclist or scooterist has in their skill arsenal of safe riding. Make sure you are riding in the correct dominant lane position and are not in blind spots. Managing your space margins around your bike or scooter will give you that extra edge when in traffic, it gives you a potential escape route or the ability to stop quickly and safely, as well as manoeuvre your bike out of a hazardous situation. All of these skills when strung together give you a good strong foundation for riding and will save your life in emergency situations and make every day riding safe and fun.
Check out your local riding school, most offer skill building or refresher courses and private lessons, these are excellent ways to tune up your riding skills. If you are considering learning to ride do it the smart way take a course at a licenced certified school and you will be road ready!
Dust off those skills, sparkle up your bike and put out your "GONE RIDING" sign. Happy riding season, may you have sunshine on your back and twisties in your sightline!