As the sun comes out and spring emerges, so to do the many motorcycles which have been tucked up in the garages over the winter. We at Insidebikes have already looked at ways in which you can prep your bike in order to wake it up from its hibernation, but what about you, the rider?
We’ve asked experienced bike journalist and regular TT racer Adam Child to put together some top tips on how you can ease yourself back onto the bike, helping you get back into the groove quickly and safely. Take it away, Chad…
You wouldn’t take a four month break from running and expect to hit a personal best on your first day back. It’s the same with most activities and, if you don’t practice, your game drops. I used to be a demon at pool during my misspent youth, but now a game can take over 20 minutes and I’m not exactly hustling. Riding a motorbike is a physical and mental challenge, and if you’ve taken break over winter, you’re not going to be as sharp as you were when you parked up in October. While your bike has been stored snugly under a lovely blanket, unfortunately you’ve lost a slight edge. Sorry to break it to you, but your leathers almost certainly haven’t shrunk and, yes, you did eat too much over Christmas. You might not be at your fighting weight, but it’s not just your physical size that’s the only difference between now and the end of last summer. I’m going to look at 12 areas in which I’d want to ease my way back in.
Perception of speed
You’ve probably driven a car or van for the last few months, which means that your bike is going to feel like a rocket ship in comparison. Take it steady. It’s so easy to get carried away in the first few miles of spring and so many accidents happen at the start of the biking season for that reason. If your bike is fitted with rider modes which limits power, opt for a softer mode before embarking on your first ride of the year. Additionally, if your bike has traction control add a little – better to be safe than sorry.
You’ve not had to calculate grip for the last few months. Wet or dry, most modern cars are far less sensitive to weather conditions than motorbikes. Now you must think about the changeable conditions, plus the amount of grip different road surfaces offer. Stopping distances will have changed and remember you might be approaching corners and junctions much quicker than you were in the car. Your tyres may also take longer to warm up too, especially in early spring.
Your natural instincts have slowed down. Last year you could smell a diesel spill at half a mile, and could almost see around corners, ‘I somehow knew there was a tractor over that crest’. Your powers have almost certainly dimmed over the winter, so ease yourself back into the groove and build them back up.
Warm up and stretch
This might seem a little over the top, especially if you’re about to ride a conventional, comfortable bike, but it all helps. I’ve pulled a groin muscle trying to get my leg over a tall adventure bike. And after my first enduro race of the year I could hardly move.
Your body position dramatically affects your bike’s handling, especially on a sports bike. Remember to move. Leaning off the inside of the bike pushes the bike upright onto the fatter section of tyre.
We had a record-breaking summer last year, autumn was exceptional, the last time you rode it was probably in summer gloves and light race leathers. Check the weather, you don’t want to be shivering 20 miles into the first ride of the year. Remember layers. Riding cold causes tiredness and a lack of concentration.
The roads you ride for fun are more than likely not your commute to work. You might not have ridden your favourite road for a few months, it might be 20-30 miles away from home, therefore don’t expect it to be the same. Those lovely series of bends which are always grippy and fun might now have roundabout, or a new T-junction. Your favourite humpback bridge might have a sharp bend straight after it now. Treat the road as if it’s new. Don’t be fooled into thinking the road will be same as it was last summer, because this can be a costly mistake.
Even if your favourite Sunday test route is the same, the local police may have added a nice surprise for you. Speed cameras can crop up over winter. Or have they worked out it’s a popular route for bikes and are now patrolling the section with an unmarked bike of their own. Equally the picturesque village where you always stop for a coffee is now 30mph zone, not a 40mph. I was caught out by a ‘new’ speed camera on one of my favourite roads a few years back – it was a costly mistake; you have been warned.
With less leaves on hedges and trees, corners can appear more open and clearer, in some extreme circumstances they might not look familiar. Again, take it steady.
At the start of the year, roads can be in an appalling condition. Hard frost could have broken up the road in sections. Road salt and other debris hang onto the unused sections. Loose stones will gather on the exit of roundabouts, on white lines, and in the gutter – so be careful when filtering. Equally take care when overtaking, the central white line might not have been touched for five or six months, meaning grip levels could well be lower than expected.
Leave a gap
If you’re going out for a ride with mates, leave a heathy gap between bikes. Stones, twigs, and other debris can turn into bullets when they’re flicked off the bike in front, enough to puncture radiators, even break screens or fairings. This is solid advice at any time of the year, but especially in spring.
Spring can be the best bike season for many reasons. The roads are not filled with busy holiday traffic, there isn’t a caravan around every corner and biker hot spots aren’t congested. Just make sure you ease yourself back into things.