Forget about the nasty red oxides that can show up after a motorcycle's long winter nap. There's a more insidious sort of corrosion: the kind that builds up between your ears when it's too cold and wet to ride, eating away at your confidence and slowing you down-or worse. You feel it the first few times Old Faithful rolls out of the garage under bright sun and blue sky. Mr. Sphincter tensing up at next to nothing? Trucks look bigger? Things happen a bit faster than they did last fall? Relax. Slow down. Caught in the early stages, it's nothing to worry about. Mental rust comes off quickly if you're willing to work at it.
Job one: Get back to the basics. Not all the way back to Square One, but don't expect to pick up where you left off when those wheels went into cold storage. Make sure all the mechanical systems are Go before going to work on the mental ones. Give it a bath. Meticulous washing and drying will reveal problems you won't see any other way. Most owners' manuals include a pre-ride checklist, or think T-CLOCS: tires/wheels, controls, lights, oil, chassis, stands. Download a nifty checklist at www.msf-usa.org. If you've forgotten that MSF stands for Motorcycle Safety Foundation, Google up an Experienced RiderCourse close to home and sign up. Then give your gear an honest once over and ease back onto the road.
Aim for a road you know with light traffic and minimal distractions. Neuroscience knows the human brain can juggle a finite amount of data-somewhere between five and nine separate chunks-in short-term memory. Overloaded circuits can't process information so well. Like most forms of detritus, this stuff starts in the most neglected spots. Coming into corners too hot? Back it off a notch. Starting out with less speed is the key to rapid rust removal. Brake a little earlier on the way into corners until you're comfortable. Be patient with the throttle on the way out. Feel the Force, Luke. If Racer Road feels half as wide and twice as tight, start with something less technical. Plan a route for the first ride or three to let you work out specific kinks in your riding style. Don't overdo it with 500 miles on your first day. And make sure you stop and think once in awhile. If you're a note-taker, take notes on anything that seems particularly problematic.
Heading out with a couple of friends may be better than going solo, but ride at your own pace. Stay away from anyone who will encourage more speed than you're ready for. Getting sucked into one decreasing-radius corner too fast will take a big bite out of your confidence. Take your time. Find your comfort zone and avoid anything that's taking you beyond it. This is supposed to be fun, remember? Reinforce good habits and let the bad ones fade away. A few weeks from now you'll be safer, smoother and sharper than ever.