Motorcycle Spring Training: Top 10 Two-Wheel Tips for a Hall of Fame Ride

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Every year it happens--millions of motorcyclists take to the road. We’ve come up with the Top 10 Two-Wheel Tips: a list of things every rider should have or do before every ride.

Every year it happens. Winter’s gray skies and bone-chilling winds subside, the flowers peek through last year’s fallen leaves, trees bud anew, the sun’s warm rays stir us from our slumber—and millions of motorcyclists take to the road. The date on the calendar may vary depending on the latitude, but the headlong rush to uncover and polish up our riding machines is as predictable as the spring equinox.

This annual riders’ rite probably dates back to the first motorized two-wheeler. No matter what you ride—street or dirt, cruiser, touring rig, sport bike or adventure sport—this is one itch that must be scratched. It’s not unlike spring’s other grand tradition: the return of baseball. It’s an apt analogy with some interesting lessons for motorcyclists.

Like baseball’s spring training.

No matter how young, experienced, gifted and/or conditioned our favorite sluggers may be, they always benefit from spring training. It gives the players a chance to limber up their muscles, improve their reflexes, test their equipment and check out the playing field—not to mention the competition. We riders would do well to follow their example.

Preparing to ride is a matter of knowing ourselves, knowing our bikes and knowing the road. So to get your neurons firing, we’ve come up with the Top 10 Two-Wheel Tips—a list of things every rider should have or do before every ride. If we’ve left something off, let us know and we’ll share it with everyone else. (Useful telephone numbers and website links are provided at the end of this article.)

1. Get trained

Did you know that there are approximately 2500 skills required to operate a motorcycle? That’s five times more than driving a car! The Motorcycle Safety Foundation’s (MSF) slogan, The More You Know, The Better It Gets, rings true to every rider who has ever parked their ego and listened to the experts. The MSF has an excellent novice program called the Basic RiderCourseSM (BRC). If you’ve never had formal training, or know a beginning rider, the BRC is a great start and it is offered in most states. The Experienced RiderCourseSM is designed for riders looking to brush up on their skills. It’s a popular course that many riding clubs schedule each year as a tune-up for their members. For dirt bike riders and aspiring adventure sport riders, the MSF also offers DirtBikeSM School, a program that introduces riders of any age to off-highway motorcycle riding.

There are also a number of outstanding schools that cater to more seasoned riders and those who want to experience the thrill of a track, whether paved or dirt. Some of the best include Freddie Spencer's High Performance Riding School, Keith Code’s California Superbike School, Reg Pridmore's CLASS Riding School, American Supercamp Riding Schools, and Gary Bailey's Motocross School.

2. Get licensed

According the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a high percentage of motorcycle accidents involve riders who do not have a valid motorcycle license. If you make the effort to take training, getting your motorcycle license is simply an extension of that process. It also gives you a chance to demonstrate to your state licensing agency—not to mention yourself—that you are proficient enough in the basic skills to be on the road with everyone else. You may have to take a half day off work and wait in line to prove it, but doesn’t that seem like a better alternative than risking an expensive citation and a court appearance to get your driving privileges reinstated?

3. Get insured

OK, this should be common sense to most riders but a lot of our fellow riders carry no insurance whatsoever. Many states require liability insurance at a minimum and you don’t want to set yourself up for more fines and court appearances (see Tip #2 above). If collision insurance makes sense to you, shop around—there are a number of companies out there competing for your business. If you need another incentive to take training, here it is: most insurers provide a discount for MSF training.

4. Be rested

Nothing can ruin a ride faster than fatigue. Pre-ride weariness is your first enemy. Working late the night before a ride will sap your strength before you even throw a leg over your bike. Get a good night’s rest and leave the stress behind. This goes for after-work rides as well.

Illness is another type of stress that can leave your mind and body at less than 100 percent. Over-the-counter cold and flu remedies will cause fatigue and dehydration. Simply put, it is never worth the risk to ride when you are sick.

Always begin a day of riding with a good meal. As the day progresses, pay attention to the early warning signs of rider fatigue. Long days in the saddle may cause you to lose focus. Be sure to stay hydrated and don’t skip meals. If you find yourself surprised by traffic, misjudging road hazards and misreading signs, it’s time to call it a day. Heat and cold are insidious road villains that will also draw down your reserves. Learn to recognize the symptoms of hyperthermia and hypothermia and pay attention to your body’s signals.

5. Stay sober

It is well-documented that alcohol and drugs—both illicit and over-the-counter—will impair your ability to ride and make sound, rapid decisions. (Remember those 2500 skills we mentioned above?) While most of us riders accept this wisdom, we sometime back ourselves into a corner when we drink and ride with our friends. The cardinal rule is that it takes a least one hour for the average adult to metabolize the alcohol contained in one beer, one glass of wine or one mixed drink. When in doubt, don’t take the chance. Don’t drink and ride. And look out for your friends, too.

6. Gear up

We all know that we should wear protective apparel, but how many of us select riding gear that is also functional and comfortable? The rule of the road is, “dress for the ride.” That means selecting protective gear that will make your ride more enjoyable. For example, a DOT-approved helmet is the minimum needed for protection, but spending a few dollars more on a well-fitted, lightweight ventilated helmet will make the difference in a lid you want to toss in the corner and one you can wear for hours at a time. The same goes for riding jackets, pants, boots and gloves. Full-featured gear is specifically designed for riding, with plenty of room to reach the controls, no irritating seams and lots of ventilation. Not to mention the various layers, zippered pockets and reflective highlights that are so practical when we are on the road. Be sure to select from solid brand names like Shoei, Tour Master, Cortech, and Oxtar.

The following list of riding essentials comprises the bare-bones minimum that you should take with you every time you ride. (Motorcycle tools are covered in Tip #7 below.) These items are easily stowed in your pants pockets, jacket pouches and under your bike’s seat: wallet, driver’s license, cash and coins, cell phone, ear plugs, lip balm, sunscreen, pencil/pen and paper, sidestand plate, tire pressure gauge, Swiss Army knife or Leatherman tool, small flashlight, map(s), first-aid kit, moist terry-cloth in a resealable plastic bag (for cleaning bugs off face shields, windscreens and mirrors). If you can squeeze in a bottle of water, do it. A tank bag will hold a lot more gear such as extra gloves, a rain suit, wind scarf, snacks, camera, batteries, tire repair kit, etc.

7. Know your bike

Today’s motorcycles are marvels of reliable engineering—which can lead to a false sense of security when we are on the road. The owner’s manual is one of the most overlooked documents in the world, so read it! The typical manual will list all the manufacturer’s recommended services and specifications. It is a great source of information and tips that will keep you and your motorcycle in top form.

Before every ride, be sure to check over your bike. The MSF calls this pre-ride check the “T-CLOC.” The acronym stands for: (T) Tires and wheels, (C) Controls, (L) Lights and electrics, (O) Oil & fluids, and (C) Chassis and suspension. You’ll find a link to their form at the end of this article.

Your motorcycle is equipped with a basic set of tools for normal maintenance; make sure your tool kit is in order. Some of us pack a more extensive kit to be prepared for just about anything. A number of reputable brands such as CruzTools offer a wide selection of tool kits in a number of price ranges.

8. Know the road

Familiarity with the roads you are riding is one of the best measures you can take to minimize your riding risks, not to mention making the ride more enjoyable. Many of us never consider checking the routes we ride frequently because they are so habitual.

Remember that road conditions change all the time given the weather, time of day and season of the year. Ever ridden a familiar highway that has had the asphalt ground off by a repaving crew? Or maybe that curve you’ve dialed in that’s suddenly covered with new-mown grass, wet leaves, patchy ice or sand and gravel from a nearby driveway? You get the picture.

If you are planning a weekend or weeklong trip, take advantage of the trip routing services offered by many riding clubs (see Tip #9 below). These companies can string together a two-lane scenic route that avoids major traffic and road construction. If you are a do-it-yourselfer, the internet is a great resource when searching for motorcycle roads that have been checked out and written up by other riders. Word-of-mouth is another good source.

9. Join a club

Whether or not you are a joiner or a loner, a membership in a riding club is a good investment. Joining a club is one of the best ways to network in the motorcycling community. Consider that many clubs provide 24-hour emergency towing service as a benefit, or the trip routing service mentioned above. Many also offer additional services such as discounts for training, insurance and more. Clubs are typically organized by brand (e.g. the BMW Motorcycle Owners of America, Harley-Davidson Owner’s Group, Honda Riders Club of America), motorcycle model (e.g., the Gold Wing Road Riders Association, the Star Touring and Riding Association) or a broad-based riding group such as the American Motorcyclist Association.

10. Prepare for the unexpected

No matter how well you prepare, unexpected events occur. Remember Murphy’s Law: anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. If you’ve read this far, then you know that Tips 1-9 are all about preparation. Now ask yourself, what’s the worst that can happen? A medical emergency is high on my list. Be sure your medical insurance is in order and do one more thing: find a prepaid medical air transport service provider. The oldest and most reputable is MASA (Medical Air Services Association). Knowing that costly, life-saving emergency assistance, such as life flight service, is just a phone call away—whether you are at home or traveling—will give you and your family tremendous peace of mind. Joining is easy; MASA is an annual membership, not an underwritten policy, which means you won’t be turned away. At the cost of a good helmet, this one’s a no-brainer in my book.

There you have it. While more can be written about each of these tips, the theme is much the same as it is with professional baseball players: practice and preparation can produce predictable results. Unlike ballplayers, however, motorcyclists can’t be content with a .300 average. For us, our goal is a safe and fun ride 100 percent of the time. And that’s Hall of Fame territory in anyone’s record book.

Note: For more information about the subjects and services noted in this article, please visit the following telephone numbers and weblinks, listed alphabetically:

American Motorcyclist Association – (800) 262-5646, http://www.ama-cycle.org
American Supercamp Riding Schools - (970) 674-9434, http://www.americansupercamp.com
BMW Motorcycle Owners of America – (636) 394-7277, http://www.bmwmoa.org
CruzTools - (888) 909-8665, http://www.cruztools.com
Freddie Spencer's High Performance Riding School - (888) 672-7219, http://www.spencermotorcycles.com
Gary Bailey's Motocross School – (276) 650-1759, http://www.garybailey.com
Gold Wing Road Rider’s Association – (800) 843-9460, http://www.gwrra.org
Harley-Davidson Owner’s Group – (800) 258-2464, http://www.hog.com
Helmet House (Shoei, Tour Master, Cortech, Oxtar) - (818) 880-0000, http://helmethouse.com
Honda Rider’s Club of America – (310) 783-2000, http://www.hrca.honda.com
Keith Code’s California Superbike School - (323) 224-2734, http://www.superbikeschool.com
MASA (Medical Air Services Association) - (866) 781-8162, http://www.medairservices.com
Motorcycle Safety Foundation – (800) 446-9227, http://www.msf-usa.org
Reg Pridmore's CLASS Riding School - (805) 933-9936, http://www.classrides.com
Star Touring and Riding Association – (520) 572-8367, http://www.startouring.org
T-CLOC inspection checklist - http://www.msf-usa.org/downloads/T-CLOCSInspectionChecklist.pdf

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Peter Terhorst
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