Lately I’ve only had time for short rides on weekends, and when weather and errands allowed, the occasional commute to work. As a result, when I ride, I want to make it count.

I’m fortunate that I live next to some tasty roads that remain snow-free 99% of the year. They tend to be through rural or semi-rural areas and are a diverse blend of curve types and elevation changes. This makes them excellent rides to keep my skills sharp during the off-season.

The downside to these short but challenging rides is the lack of a proper warm-up period. It’s a good idea to maintain a moderate pace for the first half-hour of riding and to pay attention to your presence in The Zone. I’m a big believer in this kind of self-awareness. If I’m in the zone, I’m more likely to challenge myself. When I’m not, however, I back off and play it safe. Having curvy and diverse roads so close to home requires that I be somewhat engaged before I even set off. This means I don’t ride if I’m already fatigued from other activities — I ride before chores, not after.

I also give my tires a chance to scrub in (warm up) before attempting any significant lean-angles when cornering. I’m not hitting 60% lean-angles like Ben Spies or Casey Stoner, but my V-Strom will definitely lean over enough to scrape pegs despite how high they are above the pavement.

All of these factors go into the skill-building effort. Practice doesn’t just involve cornering technique, it includes muscle memory, evaluation of riding conditions due to road surface, visibility, and weather, and perhaps above all constantly being aware of oneself and the state of my ability at the time — my ability to ride well varies from day to day, road to road, hour to hour, and I must constantly weigh that against my desire to go zoom, zoom, zoom.