Downhill From Here

Riding in the winter is great if you plan ahead.

Winter in New England is not friendly to the two-wheeler in me, but it’s plenty friendly to the two-planker in me! I’ve always felt that downhill skiing is like motorcycling in the snow. Skiing downhill, you’re challenging yourself physically, while the scenery and the wind rush past your face. When you’re riding, it’s the same–the wind and the scenery blowing past while maintaining balance and focus through those twisties. There’s also the thrill, the risk, the sense of danger-but-not quite. Skiing and riding are about the trip, too–having no real place to get to, just cruising along, enjoying the ride.

Skiing and motorcycling are two sides of the same coin.

Yes,  I am one of those guys who rides year-round. But what if you’re not nuts like me and your bike has been sitting for a bit? Well, here are a few important, non-riding season maintenance tips I’ve picked up over the years:

  • Start your bike a few times during your non-riding season, even if you do leave it on a trickle-charger. It can’t hurt, and I find that it makes starting the bike easier in the spring.
  • Change your oil and oil filter in the spring, particularly if you’re running regular “dinosaur” oil as opposed to synthetic. It tends to oxidize when it’s just sitting there all winter, and contaminants can damage your seals during long-term storage.
  • Make an effort to put your bike away clean and waxed for the winter, and covered with a breathable cover. You’ll thank yourself in the early spring to a clean bike during your first ride, and any contaminants will have been removed long before they could stain the bike during storage.
  • If you can, lift the pressure off the tires to help prevent tire flat spots from forming. During the winter, I typically try to roll a stored vehicle to different locations in the garage, so the bike isn’t just sitting in the same location for long periods of time. Have a center-stand? Use it. Also, keep those tires well inflated before storing it.
  • Put some fuel stabilizer in your tank. That’ll help the gasoline from leaving a varnish-like residue in your fuel system. In the spring, be sure to fill up with some fresh gasoline.
  • Stuff some crumpled plastic bags in the ends of your exhaust pipes. That’ll keep mice from setting up shop there.

 Want to get crazy and do some early season riding?  Keep these tips in mind:

  • Drivers (cagers) aren’t used to seeing motorcyclists out on the road this time of year. Be especially aware that they might not see you coming. Heck, it seems like bad drivers cut me off more frequently during the winter than during the rest of the year.
  • A heated seat, vest, or grips are a godsend. You’ll thank yourself later. Trust me.
  • Dress more warmly than you think you will need to. Often, I wear what I wear to go skiing to keep warm. Keep in mind that although it might be cold, it gets super-cold at high speeds due to the wind-chill, and you can quickly suffer frostbite.
  • Be on high alert for road hazards (salt, sand, black ice, potholes). One bad skid could cost you your life.
  • Check your registration and inspection stickers. Many motorcycle stickers expire at the year’s end, so don’t get pulled over with an expired sticker.
  • Thinking about stopping in at the bar for a nip of whisky in the middle of your ride to warm you up? It’s not a good idea, as it’ll make you feel warm at the time. However, you’ll actually make yourself colder as your peripheral blood vessels will dilate and your core will cool down. Besides, alcohol and riding never mix. Save it as something to look forward to at the end of your riding day.
  • A full-face helmet not only offers you more crash protection, but obviously keeps you warmer in colder weather.
  • Stop a bit more frequently to warm up a bit. It may sound like common sense, but your body may lose heat faster than you think.
  • If there are aftermarket removable fairings, grip shields, or windscreens available for your bike, they can lengthen your riding sessions many times over due to decreased fatigue from wind stress and temperature drop.
  • Remember that in early spring, you typically get warm sunny days and the temperature still drops sharply at night. Plan ahead for this per your ride and your clothing choices.

Keep warm, and I’ll see you out there on the road and on the slopes!

My favorite candy bar when skiing. Put it in your jacket pocket, and it’ll slightly freeze to change its consistency. (Read the halloween post about favorite candy bars.)