Contrary to what T.S. Elliot once wrote, April is not the cruelest month, at least not for Wisconsin motorcyclists like me. Unless I’m especially rabid from a winter of withdrawal, I wait for April to take the bike off the trickle charger, coerce my daughter’s boyfriend into helping me squeeze and scrape it out the basement door, and roll my machine out to gleam in the first sunshine it’s seen in five months.
Sure, I can slog through December tending to all those little tweaks, tightenings, lubrications, and polishings I was putting off the past summer. And January can be occupied with installing those farkles (biker-speak for sparkly but functional accessories) that Santa brought (or I bought myself, since no one could apparently figure out what a dash-mounted LED voltage meter was). But February, March, that’s when SARD (Seasonal Affective Riding Disorder) finally takes hold. I can only sit on my bike making vroom noises so long before I have to surrender to the plaintive Siren song of the road. Unfortunately, living on a town road on the north side of a ridge usually keeps my bike in dry dock until well after April Fool’s Day, and even then I’m often slaloming through stubborn patches of ice slicks the first time out.
Just like riding a bicycle, riding a motorcycle is not something you forget; however, safely re-orienting myself to the mobile ballet of lean, throttle, and shift can take a few cobweb-clearing miles. I find I also have to regain that heightened level of road-wary vigilance that months of mind-numbing, four-wheeled travel may have dulled. Sand not yet scrubbed from the corners, deer on the shoulders seeking salt and fresh shoots of greenery, and cagers (car drivers) who aren’t looking for motorcycles can make those first spring runs a little dicey. You see, riding motorcycle (and living to tell about it) is about as multi-tasky as it gets. Your clutch is in your left hand, your thumb in reach of a cluster of switches. Your throttle and your front brake are in your right. The toe of your left boot handles shifting, and your right, the rear brake. Meanwhile, at speed, you have to remember to steer right to sweep left. Each curve presents a geometry equation of trajectory, arc, and apex where a miscalculation leaves you in the weeds or worse, the wrong lane. It’s a lot to think about.
But the diversity, the technical challenges, and the often dazzling backdrop of Wisconsin roads make them irresistible. Whether scaling the switchbacks of Wildcat Mountain, tracing the west shores of Door County on Highway 42, strafing north on 45 to explore county trunks through the pinery, or skirting the bluffs and racing trains along the Great River Road, as the biker saying goes, “So many roads, so little time.” And Wisconsin riders seem to make the most of their roads and their time. Strange as it may seem, surveys of motorcycle owners indicate Wisconsin riders often lead the nation in yearly miles covered, despite their limited riding season.
Of course, it’s true, I can drive Wisconsin roads anytime. But once April arrives, I can fly them on a bike.