Maybe you’re fortunate enough to have ideal riding weather all year, but a vast majority of this country doesn’t share that luxury. Many riders know the painful withdrawal of winter storage. This winter has been especially brutal, which is going to make the arrival of spring that much sweeter. I do ride all year, but it is out of necessity. Winter riding is not fun to me, and I rarely ride for leisure during the “off season.” There is no taking the long way home from work, like I love to do in summer.
For those who have been hibernating: Spring will eventually come! When it does, there will be thousands of riders chomping at the bit to get back in the saddle and enjoy the open road. While spring is a very exciting time to be a motorcyclist, it is also a very dangerous time. Here are some common challenges to spring riding, and how to be prepared to face them:
You may live in a part of the country that sees rain during winter, but the majority who face the sort of winters that send their motorcycles into hibernation see only snow or very little precipitation. This is a problem. Snow doesn’t do the same thorough job of washing oil residue off the roads. By the time spring arrives, the roads have several months of accumulated oil buildup. As a result, you don’t just need watch for oil in intersections or other common areas (like you should even in summer!). Oil has had time to build up pretty much anywhere. This oily residue can play a factor in traction not only before the first rain, but most definitely during the first rain. Depending on the winter you had, it may take a few good rains to knock down the oil. The Solution: Take it extra easy until there are a few good rains. Give yourself more time and space to react in every situation.
Oil from cars isn’t the only hazard. Many municipalities around the country treat their roads with salt or sand to aid with traction in snow and ice. Like with oil, this isn’t going anywhere until a few good rains. While salt and sand can build up anywhere, they are especially likely to build up in areas where car tires don’t frequent, or where cars slow down or don’t have consistent lane positioning. Even if your city hasn’t used salt or sand, there is general grit that can build up on the roads much like the oil. The Solution: Again, take it easy until it rains a few times. Be especially careful in corners, where cars don’t take consistent lines (and may tend to “cut in”). Also, anywhere in a lane where there are not consistent tire tracks will be more susceptible. When possible, stick to riding in the portion of the lane where there are tire treads. Avoid the center of the lane when possible, especially if there is an approaching stop, like an intersection. That’s the last place you want to lose traction under braking.
You’ve been dying all winter to ride your favorite road. Be careful. You may not find it the way you last remember it. Winter is harsh on road surface integrity, especially during times when weather is changing and the temperature fluctuates between below freezing and above freezing… like spring. Potholes can form suddenly, changing even overnight. Moreover, there may be new potholes, cracks, or repairs that have developed during winter. The Solution: Treat every road like you’ve never rode down it before. Don’t assume familiarity. Keep an eye out for obstacles and damage that may have formed on the road surface during winter.
The air may feel deliciously spring-like, but don’t forget the road will remain cold for a while. Cold pavement and cold tires mean less traction. You won’t have the sticky grip you remember from last summer. Also, the air temperature and weather can change drastically in a single day. Hot, cold, dry, raining, windy… You might experience it all in the same ride! Winter doesn’t usually give way to summer without a fight. We call this fight “Spring.” The Solution: Again, take it easy. Spring is not the time to push your limits or your bike’s limits. The grip simply will not be there. Take is easy and just enjoy the ride. You have all of summer ahead of you. Also, prepare for the fact that air temperatures and conditions can change drastically in one day. Dress accordingly. Layers and a set of rain gear will be your best friends.
It’s been a few months. Yes, it is “like riding a bike,” but there is still a re-learning curve and a period of adjustment. Your reflexes and skills have been dormant and your brain hasn’t had to access that information in a while. In your absence from the saddle, you may have even formed some bad habits. The Solution: Give yourself time to readjust. Treat yourself like a new rider. Practice core maneuvers in parking lots (u-turns, swerving, braking, etc.). If possible, enroll in a refresher course with your local rider training program. Whatever you do, don’t assume you know it all. Review what you’ve learned already and keep seeking to improve. And, of course, wear your gear.
Motorcycle Awareness Month isn’t until May, but many riders begin their riding season much sooner than that. Drivers haven’t had to think much about motorcycles for as long as you’ve been trying not to think about them. They will not be watching for you or expecting you. The Solution: Wear hi-viz gear and position yourself in your lane so that you are most visible. Treat all intersections with extreme caution and always ride assuming you are invisible. Be sure your emergency techniques (swerving and panic braking) are sharp. Again, parking lots are a great place to brush up.
You’re not the only one anxious to take advantage of the spring weather. Bicycles, joggers, people walking their dogs, and other outdoor enthusiasts will be out, including children. The Solution: Watch out for them!
Thieves know they can get more money for a bike during a time of high demand. The beginning of the riding season is a time of demand. Everyone wants a bike when the weather turns nice! They may want yours. The Solution: If possible, keep your motorcycle in a locked garage at night. When out riding, keep a disc lock with you and use it whenever you park your bike. Try to park your bike where you can keep an eye on it. If you live in an area where motorcycle theft is a known problem, consider installing an alarm system with GPS tracking on your bike. Some insurance companies offer a discount on your policy, if this is installed.
Spring is a great time of year, even with the challenges! From all of us here at Motorcycle Closeouts, Ride Safe!