Before throwing your leg over the seat, here are six things to check before hitting the start button on your motorcycle that go beyond the basic checklist.
Motorcyclists by nature are diligent preppers. Well, the good ones are. Nothing screams “Squid!” louder than showing up for a group ride with an empty fuel tank, or complaining about unexpected weather halfway through the journey. Most of us thrive on the prep, the details of getting ready to ride. The standard checklist is pretty basic: fuel, tire pressure, et al. But there’s more to motorcycling than MPG and PSI. Before throwing your leg over the seat and flicking the start button, here are some details beyond the obvious to check before you fire up the bike.
1. Your Cargo
Not that I’ve ever ridden away with my pockets unzipped, my backpack open, or my bungees unbungeed, or my saddlebag lid open, or …
Who am I kidding? We’ve all done it, and it’s just as likely we’ve all seen a fellow motorcyclist zipping down the road without a care in the world, his saddlebag or backpack flap open or cargo net waving wildly in the wind behind him. I can count on one hand (thankfully) the amount of times a driver has pulled next to me and pointed frantically at my saddlebag, motioning excitedly that something had flown out of its gaping mouth.
Ever notice when you’re taxiing before takeoff in an airplane, and the flight attendant says something over the P.A. about a “cross-check”? I’m not sure what a cross-check is in flight attendant parlance — but it always crosses my mind just before I ride, and to me it means, “take this one last opportunity to make sure everything’s battened down.”
2. The Forecast
Not the weather where you are or even at your destination, necessarily — but in all the areas you’ll ride through on the way. This is particularly important for summertime riders in places where late-day thunderstorms are a force with which to be reckoned.
But, even here in the vast and varied Golden State of California, it’s key. When I ride to visit my cousin, for example, I motor away from the temperate climes of what they call the “Los Angeles Basin,” where it’s 75 and sunny year-round (okay, sometimes it’s 85 and sunny), to the High Desert, where it can be much hotter in the summer and much cooler in the winter. It’s always windy, though, and without fail I get sandblasted by crosswinds for the last hundred miles.
In order to get to my cousin's house, I have to traverse the Angeles Crest Highway, whose mountains reach upwards of 8,000 feet and where the temperature drops substantially, particularly in winter when ice and snow is reasonably common. So no matter whether it’s 75 or 85 sunny degrees in Los Angeles, I know I need to be fully geared up in long sleeves and a full-face helmet with shield whenever I make that trip.
With today’s technology, there’s really no excuse for getting caught in a storm or, if you must ride through inclement weather, not having the right gear. So use your smartphone and check the radar and forecast for your entire route before you head out.
3. Your Phone
Speaking of that smartphone — where is it? Is it within reach, in case, God forbid, something happens and you become separated from your bike and have to call for help? I once read about a guy this happened to: he laid it down and suffered a broken leg. By the time this fellow had crawled to his bike and dug his telephone out of his saddlebag, he’d passed out from the exertion. And when he came to? Dead battery. Ever since I heard that horror tale, I keep my phone on my person on every ride.
And I make sure it’s charged. If I’ve only got a couple of bars left, or if I’m going to be riding through a desolate area where my phone is sure to spend its time (and battery power) roaming for a signal, I flip it to Airplane Mode. Some folks just shut it off, but I dunno; I always think about that horror story, and the value of precious minutes in an emergency. In such a situation, it’s much quicker to turn off Airplane Mode than to wait for the phone to boot up.
4. Your Schedule
If something’s on the burner, whether it’s a call you’re expecting or a meeting you ought to attend, or even if there’s a chance you might get summoned, please don’t join our leisurely motorcycle ride. You shouldn’t even get on the bike, because even if you’re riding solo, you’ll be so stressed you won’t enjoy it. Worse, you’ll be a distracted rider, and that’s far more dangerous (to you) than a distracted driver.
Me? I don’t even ride when I might be tardy, preferring instead to take the car just in case I need to make the “sorry, I’m running late” call. Look, the two times I’ve kissed the pavement it happened solely because I was in a hurry. If I hadn’t been rushing, I would not have been distracted or taking risks I probably shouldn’t have been taking in an effort to arrive on time.
Make this your mantra: ”Motorcycling is supposed to be fun.” If it’s not fun, it’s probably dangerous and you shouldn’t be doing it right then and there.
5. Your Route
There’s nothing more maddening than finding a road closed — unless it’s sitting at a roadblock, waiting for a flagman to wave you through. With a bit of preparation, it’s a breeze to spot potential delays — construction or traffic or whatever — and work around them.
I once went out with a coworker who kept insisting I “simply must” ride this one particular stretch of twisties. Only problem was, by the time we arrived at the fabled strip of pavement, after two hours of interstate slog, we discovered the road closed for construction; it had been for weeks, it turns out, and we were forced to turn around and backtrack.
One summer, on a cross-country press ride, our group got caught in the mountains of Idaho, carefully navigating big, brand-new touring bikes over a 30-mile stretch of treacherous gravel road that had been ground up for repaving. We made it through unscathed, but the delay threw us off by hours, and we didn’t arrive at our hotel that night until the bar had closed. The horror!
In both instances, these were long-planned construction projects with warnings posted on the Internet — only no one had bothered to check out the route online beforehand. Once you’re stuck there, there’s no one to blame but yourself. So don’t get stuck there.
6. Your Head
Whoever made up the slogan “don’t drive angry” was definitely onto something. But it’s more than just anger. There are a million mindsets to avoid while riding: stressed, frazzled, over-caffeinated, and, of course, loaded. All of these and more detract from your ability to focus. And lack of focus on a motorcycle will get you killed.
I mentioned my two crashes, where I was too busy rushing to be properly cautious. Both instances could have had far worse results. I still carry a zipper on my forearm and a titanium rod in my hip as reminders that motorcycling requires full attention to the matter at hand.
Smart, seasoned riders know better than to take risks. Before you ride, check your head.
Everyone’s checklist is different. What’s yours?