Perhaps we local sportbike riders are a bit spoiled compared to many of our two-wheeled brethren in other parts of the country; not only do we have the blessing of beautifully twisty mountain roads with great asphalt, we also manage to evade the winter woes of extreme cold and severe weather. East Tennessee generally stays mild enough that we can regularly get in a few hours of riding throughout the winter months.
My ideal setting for a great ride would include a dry road, 60 degrees, and a profusion of sun, but anything close is acceptable too. Friends are a much welcomed addition for said ride, but not really necessary. This time of year, it can be challenging to find such a day, but they do come around, if you are ready.
Though it's easy to get out of the groove when it comes to checking your bike before you leave, being at least a little bit prepared for a perfect day can make for a more enjoyable riding experience. If you're like me, you tend to scan the weather channel/websites regularly and you should keep an eye out for potential riding time in the forecast. If you can get excited about the upcoming weather, maybe you'll go ahead and make the trip to the garage to check over your ride sooner rather than later.
I'd bet that many of us just stuck the scoot in the garage or shed not worrying about the importance of maintenance and safety over the winter, especially things that can be dealt with in the spring. This is the time that you all should take the five minutes needed to check your bike over before riding it. After sitting for some time, you never know what may have happened from a slow leak in a tire to squirrel using your air box as a storage facility. Doing a quick check doesn't take long, and it can make things a ton safer for everyone.
First up, check all fluids. Brake juice, oil, and coolant are easy and quick to get a read on. If everything else looks good, then proceed to starting the bike and letting it warm up. Any "in tune" rider should know what a good start sounds like, or if the battery could be a bit low. Either way, try to start, and let the bike warm up. While she's warming up, take a minute to check tire pressure and actual tire condition. Make sure you have good tire pressure and that you haven't picked up a nail or anything else before putting the bike away for a while. Though it might be easy to take for granted, it's also a good time to check all of your lights as well. A non-functioning brake light could have disastrous results and is very easily avoidable.
Lastly, remember to check over your chain and sprockets. Look for proper sag on the chain and that you have all your teeth, and if so, lubricate liberally. Presuming you have done all this, your bike should be idling normally and sounding strong with all that cool air. Take one last minute to check brakes and throttle response, and if all is good, you are ready to ride.
One last thing to touch on is riding style in "winter" conditions. This time of year, you never really know what's just around the next bend and wet corners can come up fast. I typically like to make a slow sighting run if I am sticking around one specific area, like my favorite section of local road. This allows me to note wet corners, possible obstructions, and any other irregularities that might be out there like tree limbs or gravel. If running a route, just back off that much more so you have "an out" if needed.
Cooler roads also bring tire pressure into question. Though it says 40+ on the sides of most sport tires, I typically like to go with less pressure so I can get a bit more heat into my rubber. Any day that is under 60 degrees, I find myself running somewhere between 28 and 30 pounds per tire. The lower pressure allows for a larger contact patch with the road, and that in turn helps the tire warm up faster and keep more heat in it.
Off-season riding can be a lot of fun as long as you take into account some factors such as lower road temps, damp pavement, road debris, and air temps that drop quickly as the sun disappears. When you're given the gift of a perfect riding day during an East Tennessee winter, you don't want it to be spoiled by anything, let alone something you could have prevented if you'd taken those few minutes to check your bike. Be safe, have fun, and respect all you see and meet.
Ben Steinberg is the general manager of the Deal's Gap Motorcycle Resort.