First Ride of Spring

The second of March, 2010, and the riding season in Minneapolis has a tenuous beginning.  There is still a foot of old snow everywhere but the sidewalks and streets.  We have been blessed with a series of warm days, as high as 36 degrees.  There is a lot of saltwater in the streets, and sand everywhere, and slush, and these unusual patches of trampled, hardened, polished icepack up to four inches thick, the residue of a huge storm a few months ago, followed by a long cold snap.

 

Since the slush and ice has retreated to the late evening to late morning hours, except in the shadows, I figure it is a good day to ride.  I put on some extra layers, including a thin Balaclava under my helmet.  It's not really that cold, and I'm not going out of town.  But I still have my poofy mittens on.

 

I take out my longtime kicking bike, the XS400D Yamaha.  Dirty, scratched, sunbleached, peeling, dented, bent up, a little corroded, it starts on the second kick at 33 degrees, rewarding me for being attentive in winterizing it before it sat under the snow.

 

I lever the sidestand out of the softening ice, and take off gingerly, on tires I had purposely deflated to 15/19PSI for a traditional New Year's Day ride.  Once I have cleared the rutted ice and slush of the parking lane, I pull up my feet, and trundle on.

 

The bike handles like crap.  The suspension is super stiff, from the cold.  The soft tires require much steering effort, and don't like leaning over, and can't be safely leaned over far.  But in exchange, one can go over patches of ice and not fall instantly, an acceptable tradeoff.  The motor sounds like the rattly lawnmower it always has, able to operate down low in the revs, easy to accelerate just a tiny, tiny bit, which is just what a guy needs on a day such as this.  The brakes are very effective, which is bad.  They are not sensitive in the super-gentle range, but I know how to work it.

 

What does one do on the first decent riding day of the year?  How about going for some printer ink and 10-gauge stranded wire to deliver the cataclysmic current required for Vanessa's new Stebel horn on her KZ400?  Sounds good.  And a mocha at Bob's Java hut (local motorcycle coffee shop) on the way home, to show off my salty ride!

 

It seems like the water on the road is all liquid, which really helps.  But I don't trust it.  I eye it suspiciously, and eventually I am proven right- a ramp between two highways, in shadow till recently.  It looks like a sheet of water, but has a funny sheen to it.  I have already been very conservative with my speed and following distance, to give myself some time to appraise where to put my tires.  I slow to about 45MPH, straighten up, and keep the throttle super-light. 

 

Hands gentle on the bars, elbows up.  Don't move, don't react.  The die is cast.  The rear walks to the left a few inches, and I just let it do what it will, choosing faith in the bike over distrust, because that is what works on a motorcycle.  It catches in a second, as I run out of ice.  The old, floppy frame just shrugs and goes on its way.  Had I gone a little slower or faster, or had the ice been longer, I would have had a far more interesting story to tell you today.  Despite appearances, I do angle for a life which generates as few harrowing tales as possible, given how much I love to ride.

 

Another test, this time a trick question, lurked on the exit to get to Bob's.  The car in front of me rolled forward to reveal a tall hump of polished ice, as big as a sea turtle, between the wheel tracks.  So I picked the wheel tracks, which were still slushy.  In another second, under another overpass, there was more frost and slush.  But this time it was polished on the wheel tracks, and rough in the middle.  I pick the rough.  It worked.  Gotta stay on your toes today- today, sand is a good thing to see ahead of you!  All in all, it is a great way to kick off a season of riding- reminding me right away the crazy stuff that can lie around the bend, and the importance of precision, sight distance and awareness.

 

To modify a traditional Chinese curse:  May you ride on interesting roads.  At least the first week, to wake you up and let you know where you stand.  Long may you ride.

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