That first warm, sunny day will bring many motorcyclists out of hibernation. Here are some unique hazards to be especially alert to during those first rides of the season.
- Automobile drivers. They haven’t had to share the road with you for 4 months. Add to that general inattentiveness and distractions and it’s a recipe for trouble. Give yourself plenty of space, watch other drivers closely and make yourself as visible as possible. Assume you’re invisible.
- Spring fever. There’s nothing like those first few rides. Remember, you have the whole season ahead of you – take your time, take it easy and get used to riding again.
- Sand, salt, grit on the road. Road crews clean up as quickly as possible but be prepared for sand – especially on corners and intersections. You don’t want to discover it when you’re leaned over in a curve or trying to stop at an intersection – or behind a bus!
- Rusty skills. You likely haven’t done much riding in the past 4 months. Muscle memory fades with inactivity and you may not have the same instinctual reactions –even if you’ve been riding for many years. Practice in a parking lot before heading out into traffic.
- Motorcycle – one that’s not ready to go. If you’ve done the proper winter maintenance, it should be in good shape. Before you take it out though, check cables, fluid levels, tires, tire pressure, loose parts.
- Weather. Early spring can mean unpredictable weather that can suddenly cool off significantly. Wear correct gear and be cognizant of the effects of cold. It can bring on fatigue insidiously, reduce your reaction time and ability to physically respond.
- Frost heaves, potholes. Winter in northern climes can be brutal on roads. Watch for heaves, holes and broken edges in the pavement.
- Your physical fitness. As wonderful as it feels to be out in the wind, riding is taxing physically. Being rested and fit offers a more enjoyable and safer ride.
- Animals – the four-legged variety. They start moving around in spring too and seem to appear out of nowhere – often with young in tow.
- Other motorcycle riders. Whether they’re experienced or not – and there are more inexperienced riders out there than ever – they too have spring fever, rusty skills and have to be prepared for all the same hazards as you do. This takes on even greater importance when you’re riding with a group – i.e. any more than one person.
Bonus: Plan and book a skills refresher course under the guidance of experienced instructors. It’s wise to refresh annually, whether it’s an off-road course, at the track or at another recognized course – it can save your life. And it’s fun!
Reprinted from March 23, 2012