Dodging The Dangers of the First Spring Ride
Read these important tips before rushing out on your first ride of the season.
Winter is the most loathed time of year by motorcyclists and those of us that live in colder climates suffer even more while enduring months of winter motorcycle storage. Once the weather warms up though, we are typically itching to get our bikes out of storage for that first ride of spring. But before you hastily push your bike out of the garage and thumb that starter button, there are a few things you should check to help ensure your first ride is a successful one.
Pre-Ride Bike Inspection
If you prepped your bike for the winter by adding fuel stabilizer and either removed your battery or had it on a trickle charger, then your bike should come to life without too much trouble. Once you have the bike running, it’s a good time to give it a thorough mechanical inspection to make sure it’s safe to ride.
A great checklist for inspecting your bike after a long winter motorcycle storage is the Motorcycle Safety Foundation’s T-CLOCS checklist. The T-CLOCS checklist is extensive and it’s a good idea to check all of the items listed there, but it can be overkill for just a few months in storage. At the very least, you should check these items on your motorcycle:
Fuel: Gasoline can break down quickly and clog up injectors and jets. The easiest way to avoid this is to winterize your bike by adding fuel stabilizer before you put your motorcycle into storage. Nevertheless, your first ride of the season should be to the gas station to get a tank full of fresh fuel.
Tires: Your tires can deflate and crack while in winter storage, so check them over well and make sure they are properly inflated before going on your first ride.
Fluids: Check your oil, antifreeze and brake fluids to make sure they are at proper levels. If you didn’t change your oil before putting your motorcycle into winter storage, now is a good time. Check the floor around your bike and make sure there aren’t any leaks. If you find leaks, try to track down the source before starting the motorcycle.
Chain: If your bike is chain driven, make sure the chain is properly lubricated and doesn’t have any tight spots or excessive wear. Also, look for worn sprockets and make sure the chain tension is adjusted to manufacturer specifications.
Suspension: Rust can build up on suspension components during winter motorcycle storage leading to premature failure of seals. Look for light rust or tarnishing on the fork tubes and the rear shock shaft. If you find any rust build up, you can usually remove it with steel wool.
Partially Completed Projects: When you put your motorcycle away for winter storage, there may have been a project or two you started but never completed. You can easily forget about these projects after months have passed by. Give the bike a good once over to make sure there aren’t any loose bolts or clamps that could give you trouble on your first ride of spring.
Taking Your First Spring Ride
Assuming you’ve inspected your motorcycle and prepared it for the first ride, then you’re probably eager to get out on the road (or trail). Here are a few more things to keep in mind before you rush off on your first ride in months.
Full Riding Gear: So you think the bike’s ready and you want to go around the block for a quick test ride? Don’t skimp on the riding gear. Accidents can easily happen on that first test ride when the bike’s condition is still iffy, so make sure you are fully protected. Once you go out for a longer ride, always bring along cold weather gear even if temperatures are warm. In these early days of spring, you never know when winter might make a surprise return.
Getting in Riding Shape: It’s great to be riding again and it may feel like you haven’t missed a beat but your skills are not going to be as good as they were last fall. Your reaction speed and timing can be a little off and corners can sneak up on you unexpectedly. Start out with a nice easy pace and slowly blow off the cobwebs on both man and machine. The first ride isn’t the time to be pushing your limits. An accident now could easily end your riding season before it’s even begun.
Stay Connected: Sure, your bike may have seemed fine while it was running in the garage, but there could be some hidden issues that develop miles down the road. You may just be planning a short shakedown ride, but don’t forget to carry a mobile phone or GPS Messaging Device that will allow you to call for help and avoid being stranded should you encounter mechanical problems.
Unpredictable Road Conditions: Many riders wait until there have been a few rain showers to help clean off the roads before taking their first ride of the season. If you can’t wait for the roads to get cleaned off, be aware of the hazards you may encounter. Road crews typically use salt or sand to melt ice on the roads during the winter and much of it is still waiting for you in the spring. Also look out for ice hiding in the shadows and snow melt running across roads that can be extremely slippery. Corners and intersections are where you are most likely to encounter bad traction, so stay alert to avoid logging your first crash of the year.
Ride Defensively: You need to be aware that other motorists haven’t seen motorcycles on the road for months and they may have forgotten they share the road with you when spring comes around. During this time of year more than any other, you need to be on the look out for cars straying into your lane and turning in front of you. It’s your life on the line, so take responsibility and assume they don’t see you — always drive defensively.
Despite all the dangers of early spring rides, there’s nothing like the feeling of being back on the bike again. If you prepare your bike and ride cautiously, you can jump start the season while your buddies are indoors still dreaming about going for a ride. Get out there and ride!