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First spring ride cures the long winter blues

A few tips and tasks to prepare your bike for sunny rides ahead

Published April 23, 2014

The Toronto Star for Wheels.ca

SMS is a debilitating condition affecting hundreds of thousands of Canadians every winter.

Symptoms of SMS (Stored Motorcycle Syndrome) include yelling at TV meteorologists, unconscious twitching of the right wrist, dragging out old motorcycle magazines, and frequent trips to the garage, where the victims gaze wistfully at their two-wheeled steeds, fondly remembering wonderful rides in warm weather.

To cure SMS, add daily doses of double-digit temperatures to a full tank of gas, and symptoms miraculously disappear — usually for several months.

The huge mounds of snow lining both sides of my driveway have finally dwindled, and tiny sprout-like objects are poking through the matted vegetation in the flowerbeds.

Because I stored my motorcycle properly in the fall, when I reinstalled the battery (that had been percolating away on a battery tender all winter) and hit the starter button, the mighty 647cc single fired into life and settled immediately into an eager, thumping idle.

The natural inclination was to suit up and enjoy the not-quite-double-digit sunshine for that exhilarating first ride of the year.

But even though the patient outwardly seems fine, unpleasant side effects can still occur if proper precautions aren’t taken.

I started by washing my motorcycle and doing a complete pre-flight check. Starting at the front tire, I first checked air pressure and then inspected the bun for tread depth and cracks in the sidewall.

I replaced the brake pads in August but checked the thickness anyway, ensured no fluid was leaking from the lines and fittings, and made sure both brakes were functioning properly.

I’m fussy about the controls, so I made sure the cables weren’t sticking or binding and that the throttle operated freely both ways, and then added a dollop of lube to the lever pivot points.

I thoroughly lubricate all cables before the bike is stored and usually do it once more during the summer. Cables work better, last longer and have a lighter, more progressive feel when properly lubricated. Plus, it’s safer — you know they won’t bind or break at an inopportune moment.

A check of the engine showed no fluid leaks and the oil was at the proper level, so I moved to the lights and signals, which were all doing what they’re supposed to do.

I wiped the chain with an oily rag to remove any residual grit and then lubed and adjusted it.

Finally, I inspected the rear tire before adjusting the pressure. Tires lose a surprising amount of air just by sitting.

The next step was to layer up. The ambient temperature might seem comfortable but once mobile, you’ll get a firsthand demonstration of windchill.

Motorcycle dealerships have a terrific selection of clothing that’s warm and not bulky — from long underwear to balaclavas that fit easily under your helmet and keep vulnerable neck areas warm and toasty.

My KLR doesn’t have an excess of electrons to power heated clothing but I recently bought an electric vest that’s battery powered — works great for up to six hours on Low.

Once on the road, watch out for the leftover residue of sand, salt and accumulated road grunge. Several good rains are needed to clear the debris from the streets, so that trundling around a corner doesn’t turn into a cover version of Slip Slidin’ Away.

Melting snow can trickle across the road and, even if it doesn’t freeze, can be slippery. And of course, watch for the gigantic potholes that bloom in the spring.

Riding skills are rusty after a winter of inactivity, so for the first couple of times, keep to short jaunts, take it easy and enjoy the sunshine.

My twice-broken left wrist usually rebels after an hour or so of clutch-pulling early in the season, and notifies me when it’s time to call it a day.

Pay even more attention to our brethren on four wheels, as they haven’t seen a motorcycle for several months (not that they ever really do see us).

Cagers are very busy and important — they’re constantly dealing with phone calls, texts, coffee, breakfast, tuning the radio, shaving and applying makeup, and we can’t expect to show up on their radar.

For my first ride of 2014, I headed north on the back roads and marvelled at how much snow was still on the ground barely 15 minutes from home.

I tooled around for a while, just enjoying the afternoon and, mindful of all the sand on the roads, riding slower than snails escaping a freezer.

It was less than two hours and covered maybe 100 kilometers, but riding in the spring sunshine, I’m pretty sure I heard angels singing.

I arrived home a little chilled and with an aching left wrist, but certified, SMS-free.

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