It's all about your skills and comfort level.
It’s that time of year again. All of us who live in climates where winter is a rotten snowy, icy thing are currently chomping at the bit to get out and ride again (if we haven’t already). But when is your official start of the riding season?
Some localities have laws about when motorcycles can and cannot be on the road. Other places leave it up to the rider–if you want to ride all winter, more power to you!
I purchased a Kawasaki KLR 650 in 2010 specifically to use as my “winter beater” bike and rode it year round for three seasons. The spring of the fourth, I realized my front brake was, at best, decorative. I dismantled everything to find the pistons seized in the calipers due to pitting and oxidation. While I was careful only to ride when the streets were dry, I didn’t adequately rinse the bike and the dry, powdery road salt got into my brakes and wrecked them.
So when someone asks us, when is the right time to blow out the mothballs and take your bike out for the spring, our answer is, it depends!
How tolerant are you of rust and pitting on the shiny parts of your bike? How dedicated can you be to rinsing the bike off after every salty winter ride with a dasalinization rinse? Are you OK with more regularly replacing or rebuilding parts like brake pistons? Do you have good cold-weather gear? Can your bike power heated gear without too much effort?
Since that KLR of mine won’t start if the ambient temperature is 19 degrees F or colder, that’s my cutoff. It’s a bummer to be stuck at work because your bike won’t start. These days, though, I wait until there’s been a really good rain storm without a freeze, to wash the salt off the roads, before I will break out the bikes, so that I don’t have to replace any more brake calipers.
There are definitely other considerations for those early spring rides. You may get out for a nice afternoon ride, but have you looked at the weather report for the coming hours? The temperature often plummets in the evening and you don’t want to be caught out with inadequate protection. Keep an extra layer, a neck gaiter and maybe a very warm pair of gloves with you just in case.
Has it rained recently, and is it cold now? I was once unpleasantly surprised during a really cracking ride on a bright, sunny 22-degree spring day. With all my heated gear cranked I was quite cozy and wicking it up… until I hit a puddle mid-turn that was, well, solid. My tires chirped as they hooked up on the dry pavement on the other side of that ice, and you can bet I knocked my pace back some.
Did it freeze overnight? Perhaps there is an invisible layer of frost on the roads; black ice can be very dangerous to cars, so motorcycles have little hope. If you find yourself on ice, try to minimize inputs: stay upright, do not steer, speed up or slow down. Just roll gently over it. Any attempt to change speed or direction can ask for traction you don’t have.
While you’re on main roads the pavement may be clear, but lower-speed back roads can hang onto one heck of a coating of sand. Take it very easy turning onto your favorite back road in the early spring.
Does your municipality maintain its roads well, or are there crazy potholes to avoid? Remember that potholes hide in puddles, so even if it’s not raining or cold, those puddles can have some nasty rim-damaging surprises.
Also, how is your gear? Did anything need replacing last season that you didn’t get to? How old is your helmet?
How is your head? Spring is a perfect time to get out and practice any skills that may have gathered winter rust. Get out to an empty parking lot and practice your hard braking and evasion skills–but check for sand on the pavement first!
Friends, what else do you look out for, on your first few rides of a new season?