By Kurt Sunderbruch
The long, cold, wet winter has passed. It’s time to clear those cobwebs out of your head, out of your skills, out of your motorcycle, and get out and ride.
Spring is my favorite season for riding. The natural world is blooming. The days have gotten longer, and the sky has taken on a brilliant blue cast. The roads are not as busy as mid-summer.
At the same time, my skills may not be what they were last autumn. The roads may be damaged from winter storms, or still have gravel and other run-off in the corners. This suggests that I should build up progressively rather than jump right back into last season’s pace.
One way that I sharpen up my skills is that I’m a California Motorcycle Safety Program (CMSP) instructor, and working with students, and working on my demonstrations can keep some of my skills sharp over the winter. These skills are most often the motor skills – turning, shifting, braking – used in demonstrations. That still leaves me with other areas that may have gone rusty. In our classroom sessions we talk about the mental skills of motorcycling such as reading the road, evaluating risky situations, anticipating the actions of other road users. Thinking these things through is a useful discipline, but it’s not the same as a “live fire” experience of having to get it right the first time, every time.
The bike may have sat for awhile too. What does it need? How about that tire pressure? Maybe a change of oil and other fluids is in order. Take the time to check it out before heading out.
In the past several weeks, my motorcycles have received some of the following: oil and filter changes, coolant and coolant hose replacements, new tires, new chain and sprockets, brake fluid replacement, as well as the usual adjustments (chain, cables) and point lubrication, and they’ve all gotten a good wash, which is a great time to inspect them thoroughly.
Once you do head out, take in all the great variety of riding you’ve missed during the winter. Sample the close roads. Go looking for the distant roads. Check out the destinations further and further from home.
This time of year, I work on holding down my corner speed to make sure I’m seeing things clearly and that I’m well positioned on the best line through the turn. No one passes out trophy for highest corner speed, and the penalty for getting it wrong can be severe. I err on the side of caution. The throttle is always there to help if I’ve taken off too much speed. The next thing I work on is turn-in point.
Often in the early season I fall prey to the temptation to begin my turn too early which results in running wider than ideal on the exit. To avoid that, I concentrate on pushing my turn-in point a few inches deeper than I initially intended. In doing so I build the mental habit for a later turn-in, which is frequently smoother, safer, and faster on the street.
The other discipline I work on is getting my eyes further through the turn so that I can see any gravel or sand or other debris on my path earlier so that I’ve got time to take appropriate corrective action. If I’m lazy with my eyes, that stuff will surprise me. Pushing my eyes further in front gives me a cushion that slows down my sense of speed, and gives me a greater margin of safety.
This is the time to let it all come back. Let the feel of the bike underneath you come back. Let reading the road come back. Let your skills come back. It’s time to glory in the sound of that motor, the accuracy of that chassis, and those skills as they return. Take in the sights and smells of the countryside. Enjoy the cattle grazing on the distant hillside, and the hawk circling overhead. Drink it all in, and be reminded of why we all love to ride.
I’ll be out there too. Give me a wave as you pass, and we’ll enjoy the moment together.