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Riding Tips

So two days before the deadline for the April issue, my publisher calls and says "can you do a quick 1000 words for the "Get Ready To Ride" spring issue with tips on getting ready to ride. Ok, sure -- although here in the desert we can ride pretty much year round, back in the old stomping grounds of the Pacific Northwest, it took some work to get ready once spring rolled around. So i reached back into my memory and cranked this piece out for him...In addition to my column which I'll post tomorrow.

It’s April in the Northwest. The sun is shining (sort of), the rain has tapered off (somewhat), and the days are getting longer (most definite). It’s a time when riders start dreaming of getting back on the bike after taking a winter off from riding -- which the vast majority of riders around these parts do. I have to admire those hearty souls who brave the elements year-round on their scoots – they must all have synthetic motor oil running in their veins to be able to keep the bike running and them on top of it, day in and day out 365 days a year.

For those who don’t get the periodic transfusion of Syn-3, we have some getting ready to do as we start planning our summer road adventures. First and foremost is getting the moss and rust off the old bike and getting it ready to run. Yes, I said moss and rust. It’s wet in the Northwest. The longest I have gone without riding is 4 months, and that year I had some fungus growing on the spokes and some moss on the seat, I kid you not. I also had a family of mice make a nice nest underneath the bike cover and a black widow spider build a web from the kick-stand to the floor. So, in all seriousness, watch for the effects of moisture and critters if your bikes been in a corner of the garage for more than a month or two.

Now any biker worthy of the name in the Northwest knows that if you don’t ride all winter you at least keep your battery on a tender and charged up. If your bike is less than a few years old, all those new fancy things Harley and the other manufactures are putting on their bikes drain your battery even if you aren’t using it, and we all know how quickly bike batteries go out and how ridiculously expensive they are. Things like keyless fob starting and security systems put a constant drain on the battery even if it’s not running and after even four months or so you could be facing a dead battery. Make the investment in that trickle charger for next winter now while you are thinking about it. But If you’ve already done that, you know your electrical system is ready to roll.  If not, well, that’s the first thing you need to check. Make sure your battery is charged and working.

The other nifty trick us mossback riders will do in the fall before putting the bike up for the winter is add a fuel stabilizer to the gas tanks. I find this a heck of a lot easier than draining the tank, which also can tend to make water condensation a problem in the Northwest’s moist climate. If you topped off your tank after adding a bottle of stabilizer, your fuel system should be good to go. If you didn’t, open the tank and check for gunk and stratification. If you have bad gas, it’s wise to drain the tank and fuel lines (and carburetor on a non-fuel injected bike) and refilling with fresh gas before starting it -- and making a mental note to put in stabilizer next winter and avoiding that mess in the future.

Check your oil. I’ll do an oil change generally in December so in those months I don’t ride I know I’m full of good clean oil, and assuming any of it didn’t leak out over the winter, I’ll be good to go. If you didn’t do an oil change, now is the time to consider doing one or having it done. Oil degrades over time and settles and loses its viscosity. Make sure the oil is up to snuff. Check for other leaks as well – brake fluid, primary case, and coolant if applicable (remember those new Milwaukee 8s have their liquid cooled heads you old Hog-heads.)

Then check your tires. Make sure the air pressure is up to where it should be. Dollar to donuts they have lost a lot of pressure sitting over the winter – not enough to see with the eye or even feel with a good squeeze – but enough to affect performance. If they are low and you don’t have a pump, assuming they aren’t all the way flat, a short slow ride to the nearest filling station is in order to get the air back in. Also check for worn spots, cracks, and other flat spots.
After that, it’s time for essentially a good expanded T-CLOCS checklist. You should be doing this before every ride anyway, and a more thorough and expanded one before your first ride of the year after winter. When you fire the engine up the first time, make sure you let it idle a good minute or so. Make sure that the oil is circulating well, the charging system is doing its thing, and the engine is well warmed up before roaring out of the garage. It’s been sitting a while, and like a human operator, it’s going to be a little stiff and sore.

Finally, the last thing to check out is the operator. You. Ask yourself, are you ready to ride?  How long has it been since you sat on the scoot. They say you never forget how to ride a bike, and that might be somewhat true. But we all forget our basic skills. We also may have (in my case definitely have) put on a few pounds of winter insulation – so we and the bike will handle a bit differently. Our muscle memory isn’t what it is. I know that after a long stretch of not riding, it takes me a few trips to build up strength and stamina for a long 200+ mile ride.  If you suspect you are rusty, and a winter in the Northwest makes everything rusty, take it slow and easy the first few miles, or better yet, go practice in a vacant parking lot somewhere for a bit. Get those skills and muscle memory back in shape before riding off down the highway.

And remember that the highway is going to be different after months of rain, snow, ice and traffic. More potholes and road cracks where there weren’t any before, bumpier rides, and lots of sand and road, especially in the curves, from road de-icing and plowing. You’ll want to be especially careful watching the road conditions early in the riding season.
Hopefully you’ve spent the winter pouring over maps and dreaming of places to explore so you have your list ready. Remember, spring cleaning isn’t just for the house. It’s for the bike and yourself. Get it done and enjoy the summer. See you down the road!

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