6 Things to Check Before Hitting the Start Button

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2014 Aprilia RSV4 Factory

Motorcyclists by nature are diligent preppers. Well, the good ones are. Nothing screams “Squid!” louder than showing up for a group ride with an empty fuel tank, or complaining about unexpected weather halfway through the journey. Most of us thrive on the prep, the details of getting ready to ride. The standard checklist is pretty basic: fuel, tire pressure, et al. But there’s more to motorcycling than MPG and PSI. Before throwing your leg over the seat and flicking the start button, here are some details beyond the obvious to check before you fire up the bike.

Motorcycle Cargo
Photo Credit: Let Ideas Compete

1. Your Cargo
Not that I’ve ever ridden away with my pockets unzipped, my backpack open, or my bungees unbungeed, or my saddlebag lid open, or …

Who am I kidding? We’ve all done it, and it’s just as likely we’ve all seen a fellow motorcyclist zipping down the road without a care in the world, his saddlebag or backpack flap open or cargo net waving wildly in the wind behind him. I can count on one hand (thankfully) the amount of times a driver has pulled next to me and pointed frantically at my saddlebag, motioning excitedly that something had flown out of its gaping mouth.

Ever notice when you’re taxiing before takeoff in an airplane, and the flight attendant says something over the P.A. about a “cross-check”? I’m not sure what a cross-check is in flight attendant parlance — but it always crosses my mind just before I ride, and to me it means, “take this one last opportunity to make sure everything’s battened down.”

Motorcycle Weather
Photo Credit: El Otro Jubilo

2. The Forecast
Not the weather where you are or even at your destination, necessarily — but in all the areas you’ll ride through on the way. This is particularly important for summertime riders in places where late-day thunderstorms are a force with which to be reckoned.

But, even here in the vast and varied Golden State of California, it’s key. When I ride to visit my cousin, for example, I motor away from the temperate climes of what they call the “Los Angeles Basin,” where it’s 75 and sunny year-round (okay, sometimes it’s 85 and sunny), to the High Desert, where it can be much hotter in the summer and much cooler in the winter. It’s always windy, though, and without fail I get sandblasted by crosswinds for the last hundred miles.

In order to get to my cousin’s house, I have to traverse the Angeles Crest Highway, whose mountains reach upwards of 8,000 feet and where the temperature drops substantially, particularly in winter when ice and snow is reasonably common. So no matter whether it’s 75 or 85 sunny degrees in Los Angeles, I know I need to be fully geared up in long sleeves and a full-face helmet with shield whenever I make that trip.

With today’s technology, there’s really no excuse for getting caught in a storm or, if you must ride through inclement weather, not having the right gear. So use your smartphone and check the radar and forecast for your entire route before you head out.

Motorcycle Phone
Photo Credit: Free4Lanc2

3. Your Phone
Speaking of that smartphone — where is it? Is it within reach, in case, God forbid, something happens and you become separated from your bike and have to call for help? I once read about a guy this happened to: he laid it down and suffered a broken leg. By the time this fellow had crawled to his bike and dug his telephone out of his saddlebag, he’d passed out from the exertion. And when he came to? Dead battery. Ever since I heard that horror tale, I keep my phone on my person on every ride.

And I make sure it’s charged. If I’ve only got a couple of bars left, or if I’m going to be riding through a desolate area where my phone is sure to spend its time (and battery power) roaming for a signal, I flip it to Airplane Mode. Some folks just shut it off, but I dunno; I always think about that horror story, and the value of precious minutes in an emergency. In such a situation, it’s much quicker to turn off Airplane Mode than to wait for the phone to boot up.

Motorcycle Schedule
Photo Credit: NathansNostalgia


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  • eddi

    Not just securing your load before you leave. But being sure you remember to bring whatever you need to carry the loot you collect back home. You go shopping with one bungee, you’re gonna have a hard time.

  • http://krtong.com/ Kr Tong

    Remember to be showered, hair cut, toe and finger nails clipped, and wear clean underwear. You don’t want to be taken out by a car looking any other way. Those ER rooms can be cozy.

  • DrRideOrDie

    Invest in a Mophie battery pack. It has a USB plug power supply that can charge your phone. I did a camping motorcycle trip through the Colorado mountains and the thing turned out to be invaluable. It holds just over 2 iPhone 5 full charges. Also when I ride I usually have my in-ear headphones from Apple that are good at noise cancelling (ear protection) and keeping the tunes going. Also I imagine in a crash situation if they stay intact that I could just ask Siri to call for help.

    • Zanpa

      “Siri, I broke my arm.”
      “I found no results for i broke my arm on google”

      • Rowan

        “Call me an ambulance!”
        Siri: “From now on, I’ll call you ‘An Ambulance’. Okay?”

        • Joe Bielski

          Siri: ……… meh….

        • DrRideOrDie

          I also envisioned this same conversation. Me, “Call an ambulance”. Siri, “Did you mean call a wambulance”. Me, “No Siri call 911″. Siri, “I don’t see anyone by the name of Bryan Juan in your contacts, did you mean Bryan John, Jose and Juan. I’m sorry about this bur I cannot take any requests right now. Please try again later.” Me, “F@$# you Siri, you…………………..”

  • Piglet2010

    Road closed is not a problem on a dual-sport. Unless you get seen by a police/NSA/DHS drone, that is.

    As for the phone battery, pretty much every motorcycle can be fitted with a power-port – unless you are crazy enough to venture solo off the beaten track on something with acetylene headlights and magneto ignition (and likely total loss lubrication).

  • Stuki

    Was your Idaho trip from Boise to Stanley late July? Don’t ask me how I know…..

    Also, don’t rely on time estimates set by GPS units. Ac coring to Garmin, and road signs to be fair, the Dempster has 90kph sped limits… Which, unless you’re either Jimmy Lewis on the latest in KTM trickery, or perhaps some crazy Inuit whose spent his whole life up there, is quite some ways off realistic.

    When pulling off on a logging road to guerilla/distributed camp overnight, finding the quietest and nicest spot with a majestic view, several miles above and away from the main, or any other, road, can be pretty spectacular. Being stuck for two days because rain turned the steep, technical, ‘adventury’ logging road into an equally steep, way past technical mudslide overnight, can be quite a bit less so.

    • Jonny Langston

      No. No it was not. ;)

  • Michael Howard

    I’d suggest that ANY strong emotional state ‒ including good ones ‒ can and will interfere with your judgement. Even happy thoughts are distracting. I’m not saying you can’t be feeling good and enjoying life, but keep your focus on the riding.

  • http://www.motopraxis.com/ Aakash

    +1 on #6.

  • Lee Scuppers

    Phones differ, but with Android I’ve found Sleep mode to eat batteries, and Airplane mode much less so. Worth trying a few things to see what works best with your OS/hardware.

  • http://krtong.com/ Kr Tong

    Oh and +1 on having your phone on you in case you’re separated from your bike. I’ve heard people say to keep their phone on the bike so it doesn’t get damaged but this is a really bad idea for this reason.

  • Rameses the 2nd

    Make sure that you have your wallet on you. You don’t want to get stuck 150 miles away from home just to find out that you have no money to put gas in your bike. I usually keep some cash in my car, because I often forget my wallet at home and it is pain to leave your finished grocery at the store, but on the bike I don’t have that luxury. I know it is simple, but it is as important as your phone, if not more.

  • Emmet

    Discuss safe group riding tips. Don’t have riders pass on the right. Tell everyone to gas up FIRST THING at stops. Make everyone aware of any areas that will have bad/no cell reception.

  • Stacey

    Legit question, but what pocket do you put your smartphone? When I was younger, I managed to destroy my phone when I wiped out on a moped, and that’s going 30 MPH.

    • http://krtong.com/ Kr Tong

      breast pocket.

      • http://www.racetrackstyle.com/ Racetrack Style

        …and make sure it is a pocket that is easily accessible even if you are injured

    • Jonny Langston

      Inside breast pocket, pref w/ zipper.

  • Ares4991

    #1 thing to check before hitting the start button:

    Check if the bike you’re sitting on even has one, otherwise your trip might take some time.

  • dtrides

    Most of these items are ‘before I leave the living room’ items.
    Before I start the bike items are ‘ check air pressure in tires, check oil level, check chain, check brakes, check fuel level , ltake a deep, calming breath, there is no hurry, smile , plan to have fun, remember to cover your kill switch :)

  • Jorn Bjorn Jorvi

    “Nothing screams ‘Squid!’ louder than showing up for a group ride.” You missed a period there.