I'm going to split my entries regarding the Final Render stage into a number of parts, since I envision it's going to be a reasonably large ordeal and will be too large a piece of work to complete in once sitting (each journal entry has corresponded to one sitting, thus far).
So for my first 'sitting', I ended up just completing the first page of the prac document, covering these points:
The first part, Importing the character, was pretty easy. I was a bit annoyed that Maya mangled the names of the imported objects by prepending a namespace qualifier, but that was pretty easy to fix using Modify » Search and Replace Names. All the textures needed to be re-linked, but again, in a moment when the IT guy inside me was screaming his loudest, I did a bit of googling to see if this could be avoided. Turns out grouping all the scene files (the .mb ones) into the same directory, making that directory into a workspace, and putting all shared textures into a subdirectory inside the workspace, means Maya will seamlessly transfer File links from one scene to another when objects are copied or imported. With that in mind, created the workspace (see picture, below), closed Maya, restructured my file hierarchy accordingly, then re-opened Maya and fixed any links broken by this process. Seems like a pain in the arse, but I tested it by importing some other scenes and it worked perfectly, so I imagine this is the way to go moving forward.
Once I'd finished that task, I ran into an issue with the legs not animating correctly when attached to the pedals. For some reason, the left leg would flick out sharply to the left for probably about 10 degrees worth of the wheel's rotation, making it look as though the rider had some sort of nervous twitch or motor disorder. Not ideal. After spending an hour or so messing with the skeleton, dicking with paint weights and ultimately getting rather frustrated, I reasoned that there was probably an issue with my skeleton since it was only one leg, and not both, and resolved to re-doing the entire skeleton.
This turned out to be the best decision ever, since in doing so I discovered the Skeleton Generator tool (Skeleton » HumanIK » Skeleton Generator). The handy thing about this, apart from the fact it creates a perfectly symmetrical skeleton, is that all the joint movement limits are already calibrated for you, based on the parameters you supply to the Generator. Once I'd created a new skeleton, replaced my old one with my new one and re-bound and re-anchored the feet IK handles, it animated perfectly, with almost no distortion. You might argue this is 'cheating', but it works so well, and the skeleton it generates isn't some mysterious beast, it's just a standard hierarchy of joints that can be edited if need be, so I'd argue that it's just a time-saver.