Springing into Summer - polishing off the winter rust

Winter's finally over, the roads are dry and salt free and the sun is warm
on your back. You've changed the oil, adjusted the chain, checked the tyre pressures, cleaned the visor and paid for the tax and insurance. It must be time to park the car at last and go for a blast on the bike, right?

Wrong. It's time to take it easy, polish up your mind and body, and rebuild those riding skills!

An easy mistake to make at this time of year is to imagine you can jump on the bike you last rode in October and instantly be as fast and safe as you were then. It's not going to happen without some practice first. Your mind is still operating at half pace from driving the car around all winter, and you've forgotten that on the bike everyone else on the road will try to kill you. All that time spent training yourself not to do stupid things like go for the brakes mid corner has been been forgotten.

We can all get it wrong. I didn't do as much riding back in the winter of 99/00 as I usually do, and found myself a bit rusty when spring finally arrived. I have to admit to making a hideous cock of a corner in North Devon following Keith along the beautifully wooded and twisty A396 some weeks back... I failed to read the bend, suddenly realised it was much sharper than I thought, hit the brakes (all the while thinking "Don't brake, Steer, Oh Bugger!) and of course the bike stood up and headed straight for a 50ft drop into the River Exe. Fortunately I wasn't going "too" quickly and wobbled round the bend but it was an admirable wake up call!

So what can you do about this? Cast your mind back to the sort of exercises you did on basic training and perhaps your advanced course. U turns, Figure of Eights, emergency braking, counter-steering, positioning. Even consider doing a refresher course. All these skills need practicing before they become automatic again.

Out on the road, talk to yourself as you ride - your running commentary will force you to focus on the dangers around you and will tune you back in to the hazards of riding the bike quicker than anything else. Work on your positioning - you'll find that you forget to take up defensive and dominant positions if you have been driving a car. Take your time, keep your speeds down and give yourself plenty of time and distance on those first few rides.

Give your body a chance to get in tune too. Start with short rides with breaks before you try to attempt a long distance ride - remember all those aching muscles and stiff knees when you first started to ride? If you've been off the bike for any time, they'll be right back if you overdo it.

If things start to get a bit scary, slow down!! Minor mistakes are made much worse if you are going even a little bit too fast because you get tense. Slow down and the pressure comes off, you relax, and you actually speed up again. After my near-dip, I slowed down perhaps 5%, let Keith disappear, then thoroughly enjoyed the next 10 minutes or so, riding much more smoothly. When I got to the prearranged turn-off point Keith was just stopping at the side of the road, having slowed down and looked for me behind him, so I had probably lost no more than 30 secs or so in 7 or 8 miles, proof that slower is faster!