Whether Weather – when to ride and when to stay home

Whether Weather:              Ten Steps to Intelligent Ride Choices

Now is the season that tries rider’s souls…

There’s are several expression quoted often by motorcyclists who ride all year round that are variations of “There is no bad weather, just bad gear.”

It’s quick and glib, but alas, only mostly true.

Exhibit A:  Black ice does not care how good your gear is.

The reality is that at this time of the year almost everyone who rides deals with the question of “whether” to ride due to the “weather.”  There are those hardy folks who ride every day, due to a passion that knows no bounds, an aversion to cars, or in some cases, a lack of other viable choices.   They are a tiny slice of the motorcycle demographic pie, at least in this country, and most people have the luxury of choice.  How to apply that luxury with intelligence?

1.         Be Realistic:            For most of us, not riding for awhile creates an itch that only a motorcycle ride can scratch.  Having said that, if you have the time to go for a ride, is there a reasonable change you can have a great time?  Scanning the weather web sites can help, but remember that they predict the temperatures and weather for a region, not for the 20 square feet you occupy at any one time.  I once led a group on a ride on a day with  predictions of sunshine (which was correct) and a high of 42 degrees – not too bad. However, that high temp was reached at about 3pm – about the time we returned from a ride on back roads where the temperature never rose above 37 degrees.  Amusingly in retrospect, I was worried about members of the group getting too cold. At lunch I learned that every single person of the group had electric gear and was plugged in, snug, and warm. The only person affected by the chill was the sole rider without such gear – me.

The lesson from that ride, which could have easily found us in a black ice situation, was to add a dash more caution to my eagerness.

The happier other side of this coin is that you can usually reduce the percentage of predicted rain by about 20% for your particular position. If the forecast calls for a 60% chance of rain, your own personal percentage where you are will be about 40%, in my experience. Your results may differ, all the way up to the day where you happen to pick a route that coincides with a rain path and you attain 100% rain!

2.         Bike prep before:  If your bike has been sitting for a time, you have two or three additional concerns.  You may want to add some de-fog solution to the inside of your visor. There are several products for this, but the cheap and cheerful way is to use a drop or two of dishwashing liquid to a wad of folded toilet paper and massage it into the visor. A fresh coat of wax for the outside, if you did not do this the last time you rode, is also a good idea. The battery on most modern bikes will gradually ebb as the bike continues to run the clock and other sub-systems.  A battery charger that turns off when fully charged is a good idea here.   Tire pressures decline over time on some bikes, and always decline with lower temps, so an initial visit to a gas station with an air hose is wise.  You wanted to top off the tank with nice fresh fuel anyway.

3.         On the road:                        In challenging weather there are some risks that are added to your plate, in addition to the usual.  You must be able to see, for one thing, so hopefully you took care of fogging and rain issues before you left.  If you’re wearing winter gear and gloves, you may have less mobility and flexibility on the bike, and less “feel” in your hands.  Not from the cold, but simply lessened touch sensations of where the friction point of the clutch is and how much front brake you’re applying. You’ll need to increase the swivel action of your head to make sure you see any hazards from the side or rear, and if you are a serious go fast sport bike person you may need to alter your riding style to allow for less leaning off and less scrambling around on the bike.

4.         Electric Gear does have limitations:     Ah yes, the toasty warmth of electric gear is wonderful, but there is a “but.”  Actually two of them.  First of all, electric gear can fail, and if you have not brought extra layers or thicker gloves, just in case, you could be in real trouble.

A larger concern is that electric gear cannot heat the tires or the road. In the Northwest, black ice is a very real concern, one of the few situations where experience and gear and skill will not help a great deal. If the front tire hits a patch of black ice, probably in a turn, you will be on the ground before your brain registers that something is wrong.

 In general, I stay off the bike if the temperature is below 40 degrees, unless it has been sunny for several days and I am reasonably sure the black ice has melted or at least evaporated.

5.         Route selection:  True, if you were really desperate you could just hit the freeway slab and ride for a hundred miles or so. For most, however, it is the back roads that provide the great rides, and back roads are so much more likely to have wet leaves, gravel, and the ubiquitous black ice.  The dry and inviting surface of the freeway may devolve to peril when you get to the roads you most desire.

If you happen across a DOT truck laying down a layer of de-icing liquid, do not get too close. The stuff will fly up and cling to your visor and your visibility will decrease to almost nil.  You will then reach up and wipe your visor with a gloved hand, and it will smear. Your view will now look like what I imagine the LSD trip I did not take years ago would have looked like.  I know this one from experience.

6.         Time constraints:  Cold temperatures suck, rather literally. Over time, your gear will lose a valiant battle with the temperature, and your core body temperature begin to decline.  In addition, the sun comes up later and sets earlier. Combine these two facts and plan a shorter ride with more frequent stops.

7.         Traffic:  The clever motorcyclist keeps an eye out for major sports attractions on TV. If you’re not addicted to football, for instance, a weekend day with an NFL playoff game can significantly reduce the traffic on the roads.  If the Seahawks are playing, double that. If it is the Superbowl, double this factor again, and if the Seahawks are playing in the Superbowl you can ride with the smug assurance that almost nobody will be on the roads.  The corollary to that is that in the hours immediately after such a game the percentage of alcohol and drug impaired drivers will increase, whether their team won or lost.

8.         Bike prep upon return.  Stop at the last gas station before home and fill the tank. A fuel tank filled to the brim will have no room for internal condensation that can form on freezing fog mornings, even inside your garage. Once in your driveway, an odd way to restore warmth to your bod is to wash the bike – while still wearing your gear.  This will wash off any road grime that has accrued, and the stuff the state puts down as de-icer, whether sand, salt, or spray, cannot be any good for the finish of various parts. If you have a chain drive bike, give it a shot of chain lube first, while the chain is still warm. The lighter weight oils that thin the lube enough for it to escape the spray nozzle will evaporate, and the lube will penetrate – leading to less mess later.  After washing the bike, a great way to remove chain lube splatter and brake dust from the wheels is to use some WD 40 on a folded paper towel.   Once you are done and have toweled the bike down, hook up the battery charger again.

9.         By now you’re feeling pretty good, so take a minute to clean off your riding boots.   Clean the visor on your helmet, and add a fresh coat of wax to both the helmet and the visor.  Wax on the visor does a great job of disbursing rain water on the next ride.

10.       Post-ride:     Go inside the house, take a hot shower, and sit down with a relaxing beverage.  Don’t you feel better about the entire state of your world now?

Copyright 2013                                                                    David Preston

About david

I am a 69 year old motorsports nut who lives in Bothell, 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 have been married forever and have two grown children. I own, at the current time, a Triumph Bonneville T 120 , a Triumph Thruxton, a Fiat 500S and a VW Tiguan. What else would you like to know?
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1 Response to Whether Weather – when to ride and when to stay home

  1. tony says:

    Just some evidence of an intelligence problem over here. Today was a better ride on my typical commute, except for the decrease visibility, than earlier in the week.

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ‘0 which is not a hashcash value.

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