3rd May 2024

Top tips for being in the saddle this summer

Click. You've spent two weeks thinking about it, three days monitoring the weather forecast, a couple of hours poring over Google maps planning the ride, half-an-hour layering on your riding gear - and what you get for all that effort as the electric foot tries to draw on energy the near-flat battery doesn't have is just that. A click.

The opening of your biking season has stalled before it's even started as you adopt that Mr Bean pose and expression, and sometimes the vocal effect too. Either that or voicing a variation upon "how unfortunate"...

What passes for summer - and those fair weather riding opportunities - may, or may not, be imminent, but your classic bike may not be so happy about coming out of hibernation if your preparation didn't start the previous October.

Ironically, it's likely to be the experience with more modern classics which rely on electrical energy to wake them up than ancient and relatively uncomplicated machines that respond to liberal use of a size ten boot to kick them into life.

No matter what the level of classic biking or ownership experience, there's always something to be learnt - whether about biking in general, or your machine specifically.

Let's take a look at points to consider - or pass on - when it comes to awakening your steed.

But let's also consider ourselves and our preparedness if it's six months or more since we clocked up what, for some of us, might only be a hundred or so miles a year of riding.

Last October

Of course, last October you'll have put your machine away having carried out some good practice or essential winter storage preparation. Won't you...? You will have, won't you, surely...? For those of us who did, or didn't, here's the checklist.

Drain the fuel. It can go "off", and some fuels can be harmful to rubber and plastic fuel system components if left in pipes and carbs, although there's always an argument to leave some in the tank to ward off rusting. Modern "E10" fuels are 10% ethanol, and can cause those problems, so, by investing in super unleaded for your bike, which has a maximum of 5% ethanol, risk of damage can be averted.

Other considerations would have been lubricating the chain and things like cables and the moving parts of brake pedals, and clutch and brake levers.

Keeping moisture away from your bike is crucial: a cool, dry garage is ideal, but damp and musty sheds mean your bike will need to be sprayed with a corrosion inhibitor or paint protector, or shrouded in a sealable plastic tent-like "garage" into which you also place a disposable dehumidifier - readily available from your local supermarket. Those "tents" also protect your machine from insect or rodent invasion.

And to avoid that click, you should have removed the battery before storage, keeping it on a trickle charge...

Waking your machine

Assuming you did all that prep pre-winter, then you're not necessarily ready to go at a moment's notice. There's the obvious, and the hidden.

The obvious is making sure tyres are correctly inflated and fluids are topped up, and re-lubing chain and cables. Unless you've moved your machine around a bit during hibernation, there's a chance the chain may stick in shape and need cleaning. Equally, older tyres may be prone to flat spots or cracking if they've slowly deflated over the winter.

Hidden issues usually show themselves straight away. Like that flat battery, for instance, but also with the fuel system. If you've left the fuel tap in the "off" position, then there's always the risk that the floats in the carbs may stick meaning fuel flows in but isn't cut off when the carb float bowl is full. Sometimes a gentle tap using a piece of wood or plastic against the float bowl is enough to loosen it. Otherwise, your next three Sundays will be taken up with disassembly, cleaning and reinstallation.

And look for clues as to uninvited passengers: air filter boxes and underseat spaces are tempting winter lay-up holes for all creatures relatively great-ish and small. Frayed wires, nut and seed shells, and what might be rodent bedding will give the game away.


Are YOU ready...?

First, check you're insured and the bike is taxed - even if your road tax is free because your machine is registered as an "Historic Vehicle". Many of us SORN our bikes and cancel insurance for the winter.

Next, be mindful that in daily car or commercial vehicle driving we do many things automatically, and without thinking, through sheer habit and muscle memory. Make a mistake, and you have a tonne-and-half of protection, or much more, surrounding you. Make a mistake on a bike, and the outcome could be inelegant at the very least.

If we're low-mileage bikers, with six months or more out of the saddle, then it's best to ease yourself back into it. Hauling your mad '90s Japanese sports bike out of the shed and setting off for Land's End as a summer biking warm-up is not ideal.

So assuming your bike is well-and-truly ready, then make sure you are.

Never cut corners on how much of your riding gear you wear, even if you're just going up the road. Other road users and immovable objects are just as dangerous whether they're in your cul-de-sac or a hundred miles away.

Take it easy at first. Ride a few miles on a route you know well, then head home and check over your bike. Some issues may only show up when the bike is warm and loosened up.

But in riding for the first time in months there's other considerations: you'll be using postures and muscles not previously troubled for months, particularly with sports bikes and their low bars, high pegs and less-than-comfortable seats.

Never mind Mr Bean if your bike won't start: make sure you don't hobble like you need a chiropractor when you dismount outside that bikers' caff...

Written by Iain Macauley, Automotive Journalist

The information contained in this blog post is based on sources that we believe are reliable and should be understood as general information only. It is not intended to be taken as advice with respect to any specific or individual situation and cannot be relied upon as such.