Were you to approach me in the middle of January about the prospect of riding in late April, I would probably make quite a convincing argument as to how simply perfect that idea would be. Amidst the bitter cold and blowing snow, the concept of saddle time in anything above the temperature at which water freezes sounds deliciously tantalizing. Then slowly the days begin to last a little longer, the icy tundra begins to melt away and blades of grass begin to once again appear then grow far faster than one can recharge the battery on the lawnmower.
With winter on its way out there’s nothing better than dusting off your bike and experiencing that first cold blast of wind to the face.
Here it is middle April and despite a spring that has been fairly undecided in its resolve, the first official ride of the season has gone down in the history books as a fairly hitch-less affair, fueled by an odd form of enthusiasm that only eight months of being cooped up indoors can inspire. Maybe this is a good thing, as so much preparation to get underway later in the season would probably result in a cancelled ride in favor of relaxing on the beach.
Anyway, the first ride of the season for my ragtag group of cohorts is always an interesting one, if for nothing else due to the fact that it without fail tends to attract a whole bunch of fresh faces each year. The reason for this is twofold: First friends of friends tend to feel the emotional drain of winter and take note of the enthusiasm that simply oozes off us riding-folk, and usually (in a fit of boredom mixed with cabin fever) buy a bike in the off-season of their own. Naturally, they are eager to test out their latest acquisition and make certain that they will be a part of the established riding community’s annual debut ride with daily reminders in the form of phone calls and emails for three months straight:
“So when do you think we’ll be riding? Does spring always take this long to get here? So do you guys ever just cave in and try to ride in the snow? Is road salt really bad for a bike? Has there ever been a year where summer didn’t arrive at all?”
Secondly, early spring has the odd effect of pulling part-timers far and wide out of retirement and into dusting the cobwebs off their old bike, adding half a quart of oil to the case, and practicing their kick starting technique. Almost like a scale to separate the die-hards from the part-time riders, I’ve noticed each subsequent ride of the season begins with fewer and fewer participants until finally only those of us dedicated (or crazy enough) remain. The beginning of true summer, when the still night air parts around bike and body like proverbial bathwater, only two or three of us carry on while the half-dozen others who joined us on that mid-April ride hide away in front of the television; bikes back in their respective corners, cobwebs forming once more.
Of course more often than not, by those truly glorious riding days, when the air is scented with freshly cut grass and the smoke of some unseen barbeque, many of the first-timers have gone onto other hobbies with the same type of impulsiveness that brought them to share briefly in ours. You pull in the clutch, step it down a gear, then feather it back out in preparation for a slow winding set of twisties and wonder whether a day this perfect would have made them consider looking elsewhere for entertainment. For by then, that chilly first ride in April is merely a distant memory, lost to the true magnificence of the day and the concentration the moment demands.
For me that first ride of the season (and last ride of the season for many of the individuals who shared it with me) is still very fresh in memory, having been only yesterday after all. My KTM fired up after only a second or two of persuasion from the electric starter and what remained of a charge from a battery that hadn’t been touched all winter. A little blue smoke filled the shed; an expected first-ride-of-the-year feature to confirm that her long hibernation had ended and that my clothes, even the very basest of layers, would reek of exhaust for patrons at every restaurant that we would visit that day to enjoy.
The sun was deceptively cold during our first spring ride. Despite our numb extremities and running noses, the trip was well worth it and proved successful in breaking the winter-long interruption to our riding routine.
The bright sunshine that awaited my bike outside was deceiving in its implied warmth and a brisk breeze seemed to cut through us during the entire multi-hour jaunt that traversed back roads, highways, and found its way to multiple gas stations. Over dinner with numb digits and runny noses, we relished in the enthusiasm and contentment that only comes with that first day back in the saddle after a long cold winter. The first-timers were convincing, even themselves, that this was the rush they had been looking for. We veterans are hopeful as our small riding pack always benefits from increased membership, but years of experience tell us not to get our hopes up. Come late July the group, which required the waitress to pull two tables together to accommodate, will likely fit at a standard booth with an extra seat or two to spare.
The ride concludes with handshakes and the sudden yearning to get back in to where it’s warm to reflect upon the day over a cup of coffee. Winter’s grip has been broken and the exhaust vapors are burning good and clean by the time we park the bikes at dusk. They’re calling for a mix of rain and sleet tomorrow so odds are good that it may be back to the routine of magazines and internet surfing but we’re not strangers to this game: The good riding is on its way, at roughly the same pace as the blossoming of the buds that are just starting to appear on the trees.