Dealing With Tricky Road Conditions

From the Ride West BMW e-zine for March 2012.

The Motorcycle Chats:    Team Ride West manager Dave Preston and GM Dave Swezey have over 75 years of riding experience between them. This month they discuss riding in tricky conditions.

DP:  Dave, for this month’s topic I’ve selected tricky conditions, including both weather and road conditions. Let’s deal with some typical problems that can arise and see how we’ve dealt with them in the past.  Fair enough?

DS:     Bring it on!

DP:     We still have some cold weather left, and sometimes it can be even colder than expected. How do you deal with the potential for black ice?

DS:     I drive my Toyota 4×4!  Seriously though, I’ve “slip-slided away” on more than one occasion while riding so these days, when the road surfaces freezes I park the bike.

DP:   One concern I have that I repeat (probably too often), is that riders with modern heated gear can be comfortable riding into conditions that they should not. Modern gear can heat your legs, torso, hands, and so on, but nobody has developed a product (yet?) that can heat the road.  On a really cold day where black ice is a possibility, I am probably not going to ride at all, but when it is safe to ride I also try to keep in mind that I should stop more often and expect to cover less distance in the day. Hypothermia is not something you want to deal with – ever.

DP:     Much more likely than black ice in our area is rain, and occasionally severe rain. In the Northwest we can have mist to a deluge, sometimes in the same day.  How do you deal with each variety, and does your approach differ depending on whether you are on or off road?

DS:     I actually enjoy riding in the rain.  It’s all about having the right gear.  I remember a few years ago when I talked a friend of mine, who was visiting our “Great North-Wet”, into riding up Highway 9 and over to La Conner.  The skies looked pretty gray and he was concerned about getting stuck in the rain.  I hadn’t realized that he had never, ever, ridden in the rain.  When I told him that I love riding in the rain, the harder the better, he used a few choice words to explain my obvious lack of common sense.  I bundled him up, gave him one of my heated vests, and off we went.  Sure enough, on the way back home from La Conner it poured.  I stopped to see how he was doing and he just had this big grin on his face.  He was warm, dry, and having a blast.

Now riding in the mist is another story altogether.  Mist sticks to your face shield and makes visibility difficult.  I would rather ride in a downpour than be stuck wiping my shield constantly due to a light mist.

DP:     Demisting products for the inside of the face shield are a must, and they vary from purpose made products (which Ride West sells, of course) to the simplicity of dish soap liquid massaged into the inner surface of the face shield with a paper towel. A coat or two of good quality car wax on the outer surface (or “Rain X”) helps the rain fly away.

DP:     One little item to be cognizant of is moss!  I notice this on Camano Island particularly but also in other areas that the back roads we tend to favor are not used enough by traffic in the winter, with the result that you can see a vaguely green cast to the road.  Obviously, moss does not offer much traction, and if it is raining or even damp the traction available can decrease to just about none.  I deal with this by first, keeping a sharp eye peeled for in on back roads from fall through late spring, and secondly, if I see some, to try and stay in the right hand tire track used by cars, as that one will have less moss than anywhere else.

DP:   Hail?

DS:    Been there done that drill.  I look for a quick place to pull off (overpass, café, gas stop) and let the storm pass.  These hail storms usually don’t last very long and riding in the hail can really do some serious damage to bikes and bodies.

DP:   Do you carry items on the bike with you to help deal with weather conditions that occur?

DS:  Yep.  Hopefully I’m always carrying some common sense.

DP:     My big deal is gloves. I usually carry three pair with me – a really warm pair, a general purpose pair, and a set that I know to be waterproof. In the heat of summer I will swap the winter editions for a set of race gloves that offer more feel and flow more air.  In addition, on more than one occasion I have had the opportunity to loan a pair of my gloves to a grateful customer.

DP:     Looking ahead to summer, which will get here eventually, how do you prepare for and dealing with extended high temperatures? In mid-winter it is fun even to pose the question!

DS:    What most riders don’t realize is that we can dehydrate quickly in hot temps, especially if a lot of skin is exposed.  In really hot weather we sweat, and as the hot air hits our exposed skin our sweat evaporates very quickly.  A good strategy is to stop and soak your shirt in cold water, put it on and zip everything up.  I also always carry a silk or microfiber neck “tube” which I soak in cold water and wear around my neck.  Not only does the cool water drip down it also acts like a mini-AC unit, at least for a while.   In the last couple of years, several companies have developed “cooling vests and jackets” which work fantastically well.  The material between the layers of the vest or jacket soaks up an incredible amount of water and lasts for hours.

DP:   There’s one cute trick taught me by a customer I really like. On a really hot day you need to stop more frequently to hydrate. Most gas stations and convenience stores have a large ice cooler outside.  Simply place your helmet in the cooler while you fuel up and enjoy a beverage. When you leave the helmet will cool your head in a delightful way, and it will last for at least a half an hour.

DP.     The opposite of hypothermia is hyperthermia (thanks, Mr. Language Man!) and it can be just as deadly.  Strangely, I have found this bothers me less as I get older. For one thing, I do a much better job of staying hydrated, and making sure I have air flow through my gear. But another thing that seems to help is to keep in mind that I am really hot right now, but it will not last forever.  If I know I will be sitting around in the evening cool in shorts and a t-shirt later, it seems to make a couple hours of plus 100 degree temps not so bad,

DP.     Seems unlikely, but is it possible to have too much sun?

DS:     Any rider who has gotten to camp and forgot to put on sunscreen during the day can answer that one…..ouch!

DP:     I have learned, or maybe not completely as it is still a problem once in awhile, that you can get a good does of sunburn on your face, even with a dark-tinted shield!

DP:     Let’s say you’re motoring along on a paved back road on a gorgeous sunny day at a good rate of speed. Comfortably quick, but not crazy. You come arcing around a corner and find ahead of you that an unmarked construction site that means you are launching onto a gravel road at a speed you regret.  What now?  (Yes, I regret to say I have done this)

DS:     Sometimes these situations do happen.  Ideally, you are expecting the unexpected, checking out your vanishing points and monitoring your line of sight so that you are not overriding the conditions.  If while doing all the “right stuff” and gravel is inevitable, stay loose, and focus on where you want to go.  If you haven’t already taken some dirt or dualsport training it is a really good idea to get some to become more comfortable on gravel, even if you don’t intend on taking it up on a regular basis.

DP:     Have you ever come across a sudden oil spill?  What then?

DS:     You know…I don’t remember every coming across a sudden oil spill.  I’ve certainly had to stay in my wheel track to avoid a lot of oil between the wheel tracks.  Also, heading out of Yosemite Valley one year I got stuck directly behind a fresh “Chip-Seal” operation.  I wasn’t riding very fast and by the time I stopped at the west entrance to see how much oil I had accumulated, I was amazed that I was no longer running on my tires but on a thick layer of gravel that had bonded with the oil and my tire to completely encase the entire surface of my tread.

DP:     How about dogs?

DS:     I hate dogs that chase cars and especially bikes.  At least on a motorcycle you can typically outrun them, not so on a bicycle and I’ve had a couple of close calls to prove it.

DP:     I used to know a fellow who dealt with dogs by chasing them! He would ride right at them and when they got confused and turned and ran, he would chase them across the lawn on his Goldwing.  Since he was a dog breeder and thought he understood the psyche of dogs he felt this was a pro-active and appropriate response. I thought, then and now, that it was crazy!

DP:     Cows, deer, buffalo, and other wild critters?

DS:     Cows…check, deer…yup, a very scary buffalo story…oh yeah, plus goats, horses, coyotes, snakes, ducks, big horn sheep, and a porcupine.

DP:     What are some tricky riding conditions you encounter on a dual-sport or adventure bike that are different than on a street ride, and how do you deal with them?

DS:     Since this months focus in on “tricky road conditions”, the list for dual-sport/Adventure riding is long and interesting.  Rocks, sand, water, cactus, deep ruts, steep…very steep climbs, long slippery descents, mud, clay, logs across the road, narrow gravel roads with no guard rails and thousand foot dropoffs, “two-track” that turns into “single-track” that turns into nothing, lifting up a 500+ pound bike repeatedly,  “whoops”, tree limbs that slap you in the face, snow and ice, serious water crossings, deep bike swallowing puddles, and dust…did I say dust…(that one cost me a surgery!)  How do I deal with it?  Lots of training, practice, and patience; plus lots of stories for around the campfire with new and old friends.

Thank you!     (Next month – gathering the gear to suit each ride)



About david

I am a 73 year old motorsports nut who lives in Snohomish, Washington. After a 31 year career as an English teacher, I segued into a self-created job in the motorsports business. Now retired, I was involved in customer relations for Ride West BMW in Seattle, after almost 10 years of similar work for the Cycle Barn MotorSports Group. I own, at the current time, a Triumph Rocket 3 (2020) and a 2016 Ford Focus ST. What else would you like to know?
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