Munich. Freedom, fun and flexibility: thanks to the early start of spring this year, many bikers are already indulging in the joys of the open road. However, to ensure a pleasurable kick-off to the new season, both machine and rider must be fit. TÜV SÜD's experts have helpful tips.
Switch on the sun, put on your leathers, start your bike – however, bikers who have already started the touring season should place more emphasis on the trilogy of lights, brakes and bowden cables. The first tour should be preceded by a thorough inspection of all technical systems. Checking over fluid levels, steering, brakes and suspension and giving the bike a thorough cleaning are imperative. Condition, coordination, concentration – the rider's abilities and physical fitness are less frequently on the agenda. TÜV SÜD's expert, Eberhard Lang, warns, "Bikers should pay as much attention to their own physical fitness as they do to that of their machines, getting and keeping themselves fit by going on mountain-bike tours or pursuing special fitness training to ensure safe motorbike riding." In the first weeks of the motorbike season especially, many riders tend to overestimate their abilities before they have developed a feeling for their bike.
Being fit: Short, familiar routes are ideal for regaining the feel of the bike and the road. At the start of the season bikers should particularly look out for the condition of the road ahead. Corners especially may still harbour traces of grit from winter-road clearing, and residues of road salt and other dirt can make roads slippery even in dry conditions. Experienced bikers also tend to step up their cycling, which not only helps to build fitness after the long winter months but is also particularly helpful in improving coordination and reaction speed. Motorbike riding is especially hard on the muscles of the neck, wrists, forearms and fingers; squeezing a tennis ball is one targeted way of boosting fitness. General suppleness can be improved with easily paced long-distance jogging or specific fitness training.
Functioning: Before embarking on your first motorbike tour, clean your bike and check all fluid levels plus the suspension and steering systems. After cleaning, conduct a thorough visual inspection. Are all screws tight, even hidden ones? Can you spot any overlooked damage? The main focus should be on components which play key roles in safety, primarily the tyres and brakes. Before hitting the road, the tyres and rims, brake linings and discs should be inspected particularly carefully. Brake discs must have the correct thickness and be free from deep grooves or even cracks. The minimum thickness is usually shown on the discs and can easily be checked by riders themselves using a Vernier caliper. When checking the brake system, also make sure that both hand and foot brakes function smoothly, that the brake cables are securely attached and that there is no free play on the brake cables.
Checking: Tyres need special attention. Even if the bike was stored professionally on a stand during the winter months to relieve the weight on front and back tyres, tyres may still have suffered. Follow this quick checklist: Does the tread depth have a minimum of 1.6 millimetres (legal minimum depth)? Are the tyre treads and sidewalls in good order without visible damage, or even foreign bodies embedded in the rubber? Are all valve caps in place? Even if a visual inspection does not reveal any problems, motorbike tyres should not be used for longer than six years. Heat and sunlight cause degradation; the tyres 'off-gas' or emit gases, they fatigue and grow hard, and thus lose their grip. As a result, the bike loses its effective grip on the road and braking distances are significantly longer – especially in wet conditions. Check the air too; if the tyre pressure has dropped considerably over the winter, this may be an indication of damage. As correct tyre pressure can play a major role in a tyre's service life and road behaviour, regular checks are essential.
Exercise moderation: Take it easy on the first few trips and choose shorter routes. If your first trip is a longer one, keep a watchful eye on your physical reserves and plan plenty of breaks. The best plan is to pick a familiar tour, allowing you to regain your riding skills and feel for the bike on secure ground. Watch out for road surfaces; this spring, potholes have hit the headlines as roads reveal themselves to be in dismal condition after the winter. Keep an eye out for the road ahead, or – as bikers say – "read the road".