That First Ride of the Year
Let us pause for a moment to consider those who ride motorcycles all twelve months of the year. I think they can be grouped into four classes.
The largest group consists of those who live in warm climates, such as California, Hawaii, etc. Even there it is not as glorious as you might think. Years ago I was cruising up Highway 1 in California just north of Santa Cruz, with family members in a car. About 60 degrees on a beautiful weekend sunny day. I’ve ridden this road many times and was enjoying a reverie of past delights in my head. Suddenly we were passed by a fellow on a Yamaha R1, and it dawned on me that I’d not seen any other motorcyclists. I asked my sister in law, a local resident, where they all were on such a beautiful day and she replied “It’s too cold.” Amazing. Sixty degrees and sunny? Here in Seattle there would be motorcycles all over the place.
The second largest group is made up of those who simply enjoy riding motorcycles – a lot. These fine folks subscribe to the mantra of “there is no bad weather, only bad gear. There’s a fellow who works out at the local YMCA at 7am, as we do, and last week his bike was there again, awaiting him in the snow in the parking lot. Bonus point to you for guessing the make and model.
A much smaller group, at least in this country, are the brave souls who have little choice. Some can only afford a small and usually high mileage used bike that get used every day – weather be damned.
The smallest number of all-weather motorcyclists are those who actually get paid to ride every day. Factory test riders, magazine staffers, gear developers, etc. I used to be one of them, in fact. For the 14 years I toiled in the motorsports trenches I was usually riding a used bike, breaking in a new Harley for a rental fleet or a new BMW to be used as a demo. For three of those years the dealership purchased a new BMW each year for my use. This was not part of the demo fleet, but if I was at work it was available for that purpose. This allowed the dealer to have an “extra” demo, but if I left it at home it could not be ridden by a customer that day. I wasn’t actually paid to ride the bike to work, per se, but it was definitely part of the job, and I enjoyed it for that reason.
All of this may all be changing. Ironically the engine for change is…congestion. As more and more urban areas institute multiple vehicle lanes (which include motorcycles) and/or instigate toll lanes, motorcycles begin to make economic sense no matter the weather. If I were still working, I could sit in my car for over an hour to get to work, or I could pay $10 to drive – each way – in a toll lane, or I could ride my motorcycle for free. At $20 a day and a saving of almost two hours in time, I would surely choose to put on my gear. With the rise of electric motorcycles, you could purchase such a device and add excellent rain gear and ride back and forth saving $20 a day toward the purchases you made, and several hours of time a week.
But for now, for the vast majority, the motorcycle is put away for the winter; however that term is defined in your area. It will be brought out for a first ride when the itch to ride overcomes the inertia of the motorcycle sitting in the garage. For many people, this is the most dangerous ride of the year. Here is why and how to do it, at least in my not very humble opinion.
Athletes are familiar with the term “muscle memory.” If you shoot 150 jump shots a day, with some coaching as to form, your body will lock in on how to do it. If you quit playing for 6 months it will take time to get your “touch” back. The same is true for the athleticism required to ride a motorcycle with competence.
In other words, the first ride of the year is not the time to return to your favorite winding back road and attempt to ride it at the same pace you did toward the end of last summer, when you’d been riding several days a week for a few months.
Clean the bike. Maybe you put the bike away clean, and all it needs is a light dusting. The intent here has little to do with the bike, which probably does not care if it is clean or dirty. You need to spend time with your hands on the bike, checking over all the parts and reminding yourself of the details.
Case in point. I went out to the garage last week to hook up the trickle charger, as I’d not ridden the bike for three months. In my case, this was due to a two month unintended break due to an infection in my spine (!), cause unknown. Restored to rude health, I removed the seat to put on the charger, forgetting that the good folks at Triumph of Seattle had installed a pig tail before purchase, deleting the need to remove the seat for charging. In my defense, they did such a subtle job of installation that the location is not obvious. I’d owned the bike for two months before I noticed it was there.
Fuel. A bit of a conundrum for me here. I’ve read dire articles in magazines for three decades about the horrid state of “modern” gasoline, and how a stabilizer is needed, or draining of the tank, etc. I’ve never done this, and never had a problem. Years ago I had a Yamaha 750 which often sat for three months in the garage and always started right up. My Bonneville now has fuel with ethanol added, and it has not caused a problem at all. I did not even bother to make sure it was full up when parked; as I did not know at that time I was not going to ride it for two months. Your experience may differ.
Gear. Might be a good time to put your jacket and such through the wash. Again, the intent is to spend some time going over what you have and how it works, weird as that may sound. In my case, I have the luxury of owning several riding jackets, which I select depending on weather, etc. There are various liners for them, and I need to remember which liner goes with which jacket.
Weather. Not really a factor, but when reintroducing your mind and body to riding, a dry day might make it a little easier.
The ride. Finally! I like to start the bike and let it idle a little bit. A modern bike with fuel injection does not need to be warmed up, but it has been some time since last aroused, and letting the oil get warm and circulating is not a bad idea. You can use the time to walk around and check for leaks and anything that does not look right.
Select a short ride route on easy roads you know well. You are not out for a grand adventure; you’re in training for grand adventures. For my first ride since last December I rode a few miles on the freeway to get used to things, and then cruised through a small town and back home. Took about an hour.
The next day I rode to a breakfast meeting at 7am in the dark. Everything felt much more familiar. On the way home I peeled off the freeway for my exit, rifled off a few snappy downshifts, and arced through the turn on a green light to the street that leads to my home.
It was wonderful to feel again that I was riding the motorcycle, as opposed to merely sitting on it while in motion.
I’m now ready, and so is the bike. Let the adventures begin!
Copyright 2017 David Preston