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
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
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
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
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.