What is your preseason prep?
Here in Montreal, the 2023 motorcycle season has officially begun. As of March 15th, we can legally be back on the road. The reality, however, is that no one is stupid enough to do so. I saw—or rather, heard—a scooter on the road yesterday, but I wouldn’t want to take a bigger bike out yet. In fact, I can’t get my bike out yet; there’s still several feet of snow blocking the doors to my shed.
Nevertheless, the air is filled with anticipation as it won’t be long now. Motorcyclists are scurrying about like squirrels uncovering nuts, or birds building nests. I’ve seen a few Facebook posts about preseason maintenance and, for the Harley riders, preseason cleaning and polishing. T. S. Eliot wrote that April is the cruelest month, but for motorcyclists in northern climates, it’s these last few weeks of March during The Big Melt (aka dog shit season) that are the most painful. To ease the pain, we undergo a ritual process of preparation for the season to come. Here is what I do to get ready to ride.
The first thing I do is undo everything I did last fall to prepare the bike for storage. That involves removing whatever I’ve used to block the intake and exhaust ports, removing the wax I left on the bike to protect it through the cold winter months, replacing the battery and saddle, lowering the bike off the jack-stand, and topping up the tires. The bike is now ready to run, and I might start it up, just to hear its familiar exhaust note and reassure myself that all is well in the world.
Depending on the mileage, I change most of the fluids on the first warm day of spring. (I don’t have the luxury of a heated garage, so all maintenance is done outside.) I changed the oil before putting it into storage, but apparently oil ages even if unused, so I’ll do an early oil change, maybe not right away but soon. For this reason, some people put a cheap oil in the bike in the fall just for storage purposes, then change to the good stuff in the spring. I think that’s a little over-kill, so I put the same top quality synthetic oil in before and soon after storage. And no, I’m not going to start an oil thread by revealing what I use, as much as I always enjoy a good oil thread.
I change the coolant and brake fluid every two years or 20,000 kilometres, whichever comes first. I also remove the brake pads, clean them up with a wire brush, and clean and lube the callipers, paying special attention to the calliper pins. The brake cleaning might be over-kill too, but I like to know the pins are moving freely and generally to keep the brakes free of grit and grime. They’re just one of those essential moving parts that is exposed to road debris. If you’ve never done your brakes before, it really isn’t difficult.
I change the air filter, or in my case, because I use a K&N, clean and re-oil it. This year I’ll be adding a Uni pre-filter to my bike. On my Tiger 800XC, the OEM filter is under the tank, so adding a pre-filter will not only help protect the engine but also significantly cut down on the service intervals for the filter in the air box.
Then the fun begins: I add all the mods I’ve bought through the winter.
If you didn’t launder your gear and wash your helmet liner in the fall, now might be a good time to do it. I also get out the leather conditioner and go a little crazy with it. First I do my leather jacket, then my gloves. Then while the rag is damp I do my satchel, my shoes, my wallet, my fountain pen cases, my belt . . . like I said, I go a little crazy. I do this once in the fall when I put my jackets away and once in the spring. We have baseboard heaters which pull all the moisture out of the air in the house, so I do this at least twice a year.
My favourite brand of leather conditioner? This might start a thread as long as an oil thread, but I’ll say that someone who works at the high-end store in Montreal where I bought my satchel once graciously confided that Armor All Leather Care Gel is just as good as the expensive stuff they sell. That was my brand until Canadian Tire stopped selling it. Then I switched to Simoniz, which I didn’t like as much, and lately it’s been Chemical Guys, although this year I’ve noticed that it’s leaving a white film on the leather once it dries. So after doing a little research, I’m going to try Cobbler’s Choice. Like I said, I’m a little obsessive about moisturizing my leather goods. The best moisturizer, however, is good ol’ beeswax, although it leaves the jacket sticky for a few days.
So with every leather item in my house sufficiently moisturized, my gear is almost ready for the season. I squirt a little WD40 on the buckles of my ADV boots, some Pledge on my helmet, wipe some silicone onto the rubber that seals the visor, and polish my visor with Plexus. Yeah, this stuff costs a lot, but Ryan F9 has done a video showing that it’s the best. If the visor is old and too badly scratched to restore, this is when I get a new one; there’s no sacrificing when it comes to vision on the bike.
I also get out my camping gear and give it some love. Last fall, I treated the tent with Kiwi Camp Dry Heavy Duty Waterproofing Spray. I like this stuff because it’s non-toxic and doesn’t leave an after-smell. I also clean my stove and make sure anything that needs replacing is replaced, because there’s nothing worse than a temperamental stove when on tour. The one that I use runs on liquid fuel and requires maintenance from time to time.
Touring for weeks on end and crawling in and out of tents, as I’ll be doing this summer, requires some fitness and flexibility. The long days in the saddle are easier if you have some cardio fitness, so I’ve been running fairly regularly. I do a 5K loop with the dog 2-3 times a week, and when I’m inspired, I run a little longer. Now that the warmer weather is almost here, I’ll be bumping that up and doing some 10K and even longer runs. Running has always been easy for me and it’s my go-to exercise for body and mind.
With all that running, I need to do stretching or my legs get tight and my back becomes prone to injury. This year I invested in some athletic therapy which gave me a set of stretches to do, and as Robert Frost said, that has made all the difference. I used to pull my back a few times a year, often at the worst possible time, laying me up for a week, but with this stretching, I haven’t had an incident in a while. I think I’ve found the answer to my back issues.
In addition to the cardio and stretching, I work on strengthening my core, so some Pilates, yoga, and generally, abdominal work. Sitting on the bike all day is like sitting on a stool with no backrest, so you need a strong core. When you start doing any off-roading, there are even bigger demands on your muscles. I’ve already done a blog about fitness and strengthening, so if you’re interested in the specific exercises I do, check that out. One thing I’ve added since making that post is to work on balance. You can do that with a wobble board, but a simple way to improve your balance skills is to stand on one foot . . . with your eyes closed. Try it. This develops all those nerves in the foot that are essential to good balance, and according to Jimmy Lewis, off road riding is all about balance.
This year, to account for the extra weight of the top-heavy Tiger, I started doing some strength training with kettle bells. I may be a natural runner, but I’ve always had the upper body of Pee-wee Herman. I really like kettle bells and I think they will become a regular part of taking care of myself. The main reason I like them is that you get cardio, strengthening, and core work all in the same workout. Because kettle bells are asymmetrical (unlike barbells), you’re always working your core, and if you string reps together EVOM (Every Minute On the Minute), you also get your cardio workout. Best of all, you really only need a couple of kettlebells to get started and can do it in a small space in the house. I’ve been doing kettlebelling for the past month or so and am loving it! I’m following Mark Wildman’s YouTube channel. He’s excellent and has a series of videos specifically for people like me just starting out.
If that sounds like a lot, it kind of is, and I’m trying to figure out how to fit it all in. At my age, recovery time is not what it used to be, if you know what I mean. At first, I tried staggering running and strengthening on alternating days, but that didn’t leave me any days off to recover. Currently I do a run after my long days at work to run off the stress, then a double workout of kettlebelling followed by a light run when I can, which wipes me out but then I take a full day off with just some stretching. In other words, I listen to my body and adjust accordingly, keeping in mind that you need to do an activity 3-4 times a week to see benefits.
Finally, the only other muscle I exercise is . . . eh, hem . . . not what you’re thinking but my clutch hand. I keep one of those spring grip devices on my desk all winter and pick it up from time to time. Works better than a stress ball and helps avoid arm pump when off roading.
Eye on the Prize
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . . it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair. Charles Dickens wasn’t a motorcyclist, but in describing the Victorian era he caught something of the spirit of this intermediary period. As I come to the end of my March Break and head back to work tomorrow, I keep in mind that at least I’ll soon be able to commute by bike, and before I know it, the semester will be drawing to a close and we’ll be getting ready to leave for Newfoundland. Marilyn and I booked our ferry crossing the other night so that trip is a go! 18 days together on the bike camping through Gaspé, Gros Morne, and across The Rock. It’s going to be epic.
Keep your eye on the prize, folks, whatever that may be for you. Have a safe and enjoyable season.