If you’ve been cooped up all winter like a rabid dog slobbering at the mouth just itching to get outside and enjoy the breeze in your face, you’re in luck. Spring has sprung and now it’s time for you to spring into action, shake the cobwebs out of your body, throw a leg over your motorcycle seat, put your hand on the throttle, and then grip it and rip it.
Unless you’ve got some kind of high-tech, virtual reality motorcycle simulator, chances are your riding skills are probably a bit rusty. Sure riding a motorcycle is like riding a bike and you never forget how to do it, but just like your bike needs a good once over before your hit the road for your first ride of the season you should spend an hour or two getting reacquainted with your motorcycle and brush up on your riding skills. Here are 10 things you can do to get you back up to speed from a long winters nap.
Lift the Lid
Before you even fire up your bike, the first thing you should do is inspect your motorcycle helmet. Everyone has their favorite lid, and no matter if you wear a full face helmet, half helmet, beanie, or open face style helmet they all wear down over time. Even if you’ve taken excellent care of your helmet, never dropped it or been in an accident with it, if you’ve had it for several years there’s a chance it may be past its prime. Over time the EPS liner (the part that helps absorb impact) inside the helmet loses its effectiveness, therefore providing less safety and protection. To help determine if it’s time to replace your helmet look inside for the manufacture date. Shoei Helmets recommends replacing your helmet seven years after the production date, which is a pretty good guideline to go by for any helmet. If you really want to be on the safe side, five years past the production date you might want to start looking into a new helmet.
Line of Sight
The days are going to get longer so that probably means you’ll be taking longer rides that may extend into dusk or nighttime riding. Aside from low light situations you may experience unexpected weather conditions like pelting rain or skin peeling dust storms. Having the right eye protection can mean the difference between a great motorcycle ride and tears of misery streaming down your face. Speaking of face, a full face helmet provides the best overall protection from wind, rain, hail, dust, and bugs. These days there are many full face helmet options like the LS2 FT2 Full Face Helmet that offer two shields, a traditional face shield and then a short tinted eye shield that can be retracted or deployed with the push of a button. This is a great option because it means you can ride all day with the tinted shield and then retract it into the helmet to see through a clear face shield for night time vision without having to mess with glasses or get off the bike to switch eye wear. If you’re not one for a full face helmet there are now half helmet options that have retractable tinted shields like the HJC IS-Cruiser Half Helmet. However you choose to protect your eyes just remember to have a clear or yellow tinted lens for low light riding and a dark tinted option for bright/daylight riding.
Another important piece of riding gear you should inspect is your motorcycle boots. Obviously you want to make sure there are no holes in the soles or excessive wear in the toe where the shifter hits the boot. Inspect the bottom and make sure the sole is still firmly attached to the body of the boot and that there is plenty of traction/tread so that you’ll have grip when you put your feet down at stops.
Back to School
It might be a hard concept for your kids to understand while they are enjoying spring break, but enrolling in a motorcycle safety course is a great way to properly re-learn how to ride a motorcycle. There are advanced rider courses you can take that may teach you some new tricks and techniques or help you correct bad habits you’ve developed over the years. Aside from improving your skills, completing a rider’s course can help you save money down the road as many insurance agencies offer discounts for taking training courses.
Get in the Zone
If you’re more of the do-it-your-self type and going to a motorcycle riding school doesn’t appeal to you then slip over to a large open parking lot or area where you can practice without dealing with traffic or other distractions. Get familiar with the friction zone of your motorcycle clutch. Start from a stopped position and slowly let the motorcycle clutch lever out as you lightly twist the throttle until you feel the bike begin to pull then gently pull the clutch in and let off the throttle. Continue this process over and over slowly letting more and more clutch out until your hand/fingers commit to memory the position and feel of where the beginning and end of the clutch’s friction zone is.
Brake it in
Once you’ve got the friction zone down start warming up the brakes. Remember the majority of your braking will be at the front of the motorcycle (almost 70-80 percent of the braking). You want to practice rolling at a mild pace and work the front brake lever and rear foot brake together gently applying more and more pressure in a smooth manner until you come to a stop. Keep the bike straight up to maximize your motorcycle tire’s contact patch to the road. The key is to not apply too much pressure too fast otherwise you’ll lock up the wheels and end up in a skid. Keep in mind more pressure is applied to the front brake Practice again and again gaining a little more speed each time and braking in a safe and controlled manner so that you can get a good amount of pressure on the brakes without skidding. As you get better start setting predetermined points and brake so that you come to a stop at those spots.
Lean and Mean
After you get familiar with the clutch and brakes move onto getting to know the turning characteristics of your motorcycle. Working in a wide open area begin rolling in big swooping figure eights at a slow speed and use the friction zone of the clutch to control your speed. Gradually pick up speed and gently tighten up your lines so that your turns get deeper and you can lean the bike over more. The objective isn’t to drag pegs or floorboards trying get the bike to its maximum lean angle, but to help reacquaint yourself with the shifting weight of the bike, get you to lean with the bike, and get you back in the habit of looking through the turn to where you want to go.
We all appreciate others respecting our personal space. Well, the same applies when we’re on the road. Except rather than personal space being observed out of courtesy or respect it’s more of a safety issue. If you space out while riding and aren’t aware of the fact that you’ve encroached on the personal space of the rider or vehicle in front of you, when/if there’s a sudden stop you won’t have time to safely stop or maneuver the bike around whatever is in your path. Riding a motorcycle requires all your attention all the time. You need to remember to keep a safety gap between you and the bike or vehicle in front of you. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation recommends a 2 second gap when cruising around town at speeds under 40mph, and a gap of about 4 seconds when riding at highway speeds. These distances should be adjusted depending on the road conditions and weather. Remember to always be scanning the road and be aware of your surroundings. Most importantly, don’t ride in the blind spot of another rider or vehicle.
When riding with others communication is a key ingredient to a fun and safe outing. Even if everyone in your group has a motorcycle communication system like a Sena Communication System or a Scala Rider you should still talk before you set out and go over your final destination, planned rest stops, fuels stops, and meal locations. Hand signals are a big part of motorcycling. What one signal may mean to you can mean something totally different or nothing at all to others in your group. So before you ride, make sure everyone is on the same page about the various hand signals and make a plan as to what to do if someone gets separated from the group. Another important part of riding in a group is staying together so that you don’t leave spaces big enough that would allow other vehicles to break up/into the group. This can sometimes be tricky, as we mentioned above you want to keep your distance from those in front of you but don’t want to lag so far behind that someone else can interrupt the group.
Know your Enemy
The open road can bring a lot of enjoyment when on a motorcycle. However, with the arrival of the spring thaw it can reveal new pot holes in your favorite roads and other obstacles. Spring and summer are also prime time for road construction which can lead to sand, loose gravel, and sheer drop offs where there used to be shoulders and other. Also remember the road can get pretty slippery after a spring or summer rain, especially fresh asphalt; railroad tracks can also very tricky to cross in wet conditions. In any of these circumstance the key is to stay calm and relaxed and don’t tense up on your motorcycle handlebars. Reduce your speed and downshift ahead of the obstacle, if possible cross the surface in straight line with the bike upright. If you have to brake do so gently and don’t get on the throttle until you’re out of the hazard.
Lastly, and this may be the most important of all, remember that the majority of automobile drivers are not paying attention for motorcyclists. While hi-viz motorcycle gear like Tour Master’s Intake Air Series 3 Hi-Viz Textile Jacket will definitely help you be seen by others, you still need to always have your guard up and act as though cars don’t see you. Intersections and junctions where vehicles join or cross your path from other roads are where the majority of motorcycle/vehicle accidents occur. The most common motorcycle accident at an intersection is from a car turning left into an oncoming motorcycle. And what’s the most common excuse from the vehicle operator? “I didn’t see him/her.” When approaching an intersection proceed with caution and be mindful on oncoming traffic and those around you.
Spring is an exciting time for motorcyclists, we are all excited to finally get out of the house and explore on two wheels. But we can also be a bit rusty or have a few cobwebs in our heads from the long winter’s rest. By following a few of these tips you can help bring in the new riding season safely and with the fun and excitement it deserves.