Sunday, February 14, 2010

Embracing the Winter Night Ride

We've had a lot of snow this month and most of it is still piled around. The hemlock trees in the front yard aren't as full as they were when I made this picture last week but snow still hangs in the branches. Work, the dog, and the weather have taken a huge bite out of my riding opportunities and I feel the lack of road time. A nervous energy, an anticipation, a pacing grows in my spirit. This past Friday evening Kissell Motorsports was celebrating the addition of BMW motorcycles to their line of European machines and were unveiling the new BMW S 1000RR. What better opportunity to ride than to an event like this.

Photography was not much on my mind so forgive the incidental images. Attention was directed on the road, the night, and the challenges presented when snow, ice and subfreezing temperatures demand a different sort of rider attention. On the way home from work in the truck I paid close attention to the road surface in a manner that the average cager doesn't need to. Sporatic spots of ice, snow and salt ladden water don't mean the same thing when you are using four wheels.

I stopped on the way to Kissell's to take one more look at the road surface, guage the traffic, and give myself one last opportunity to turn around and go home. Standing under the streetlight I realized what I was doing, I could feel my senses sharpening, eyes scanning for riding dangers, thoughts working out handling plans and contingencies, I was moving into winter rider mode.

I understand the incredulous reactions of other riders to this activity. For those who are nervous about riding at night in good weather they are doubly opposed to it when there is a certainty of slippery stuff. Judged from a perspective of recreational riding this activity is simply nuts. And I have considered it so more than once or twice.

Riding in the winter is special and for me the payoff is in the complete focus it delivers. I suspect it is similar to what accomplished athletes find in their individual sports. Everything not important to the task at hand is stripped away and I find a purity of purpose and spirit. Is it worth the risk (and it does exist)? Each rider has to make their own decision. There is not right or wrong answer here. It's personal.

The Vespa GTS 250ie was the only two wheeled vehicle outside the doors of Kissell Motorsports. Their parking lot still had some big patches of smooth ice. Not the sort of surface you want to come flying into. Definitely the kind of obstacle that a rider must plan for when riding at night in the winter.

Even when all the snow is gone and the roads are dry there are many reasons why you might encounter ice. There always seems to be someone washing their car in the winter who drives off leaving nice icey tire tracks on the road. And now, with so much snow still around I encountered several instances of show piles on the road courtesy of drivers who don't clear their vehicles of snow before leaving home.

At night I have to make a lot of adjustments. Apologies to everyone else on the road. I leave my high beam on. I just need to see the road ahead. Curiously no one ever flashes me. Maybe it is not as bright as I think it is. And the scanning process that takes place during the day is more furious at night. And I anticipate potential problems and make use of lane adjustments, speed and stopping more often. The ride is not about moving from point A to point B as smoothly and quickly as possible. It is about being as careful, prudent and safe as possible. A very different ride.

Events were already underway when I arrived. After grabbing a hot dog I made my way around to a vantage point where I could see the BMW S1000 RR when it would be revealed. A lot of people turned out to see the new line of motorcycles. With the Canon G9 in one hand and a hot dog in the other I waited.

Moments after the box was removed and before people queued up to take a closer look and sit on the bike. I'm amazed at the sophistication of the motorcycles today. The two-stroke dirt bike I road in the 1960s seems like a toy in comparision. A junky toy.

There were new BMWs everywhere in a maze of machinery. I made mental notes of the ones I would fantasize about.

The BMW R1200 GS bikes were very nice. I can see myself with one of those. I've sent away for plans for a new garage.

Dan Leri owns, I think, a BMW RT1200. He's sitting here trying to decide which bike to buy his wife for Valentine's Day. I think that's what he was doing.

My friend Paul Ruby was standing in the corner playing with his iPhone. He's addicted and in search of a 12-step group. The place where people say "I'm powerless over my iPhone and my life has become unmanageable". Paul has a BMW X Moto 800(?). All I know is it seems to be the tallest motorcycle I have ever ridden.

I plan to return to look the new motorcycles over more carefully. When my mind isn't preoccupied with the ride home. The obstacles, the risks. The smart man would return by the same safe route found earlier in the evening right?

It's good to know I'm smart some of the time.


Rob said...

You are a brave soul riding the scooter in winters madness. Much respect I am sending your way!

Chris Ronan said...

I'm in Texas and we've had our first major snow storm that I've seen. Still though you have some challenging conditions there... I need to dust off my 300 Super

Richard Machida said...

It seems like there may be a GS with studded tires in your future...

I'm amazed that you are willing to ride at night with snow and ice on the streets. So much harder to see the icy spots.

Steve Williams said...

Rob: I consider myself careful more than brave. The riding just requires a different frame of mind. And you can't ride like you would in warm weather. Most riders I talk with don't like the idea that they have to make major adjustments in riding style. There is not a lot of room for free, wind in your hair riding.

Steve Williams said...

Chris: Be careful. Nothing more disheartening to have the scooter go down and get all scraped up.

Richard: I'm looking forward to trying some of the new BMWs. The 650, 800 and 1200 GS machines are nice. And so it the 1200 GS Adventure.

My winter riding is way down. I'm getting soft. The house is nice and warm...

Chuck Pefley said...

Good for you , Steve, for anticipating road conditions as well as photo conditions for the "unveiling". I suspect good photographers may have a slight edge in seeing and anticipating what others can only react to after the fact.

Lianna said...

I'm also in Texas - but in Austin, where snow has not even come close this year. I hang up the keys for a good part of the year here, and I'll need to harness some of your spirit and smarts when I move up to Massachusetts in a few months. Much respect

Charlie6 said...


I've ridden, not by choice, at night with snow and ice on the road, not fun. My compliments Sir!

Now on the Ural, it's less stressful...

irondad said...

I've been knowing you for what seems a long time, now. For some reason the words, "crazy like a fox" come to my mind when I read this post.

On the outside is this mild mannered university administrator. "Oh, I'm careful and prudent so this isn't as reckless as you think" and all that stuff.

You hide it while I don't but inside your chest beats a Warrior heart. You know it does. He who was once the Grasshopper is now a Master in his own right.

When you rolled into the parking lot and saw you were the only one of a whole bunch that rode, I'm pretty sure the first thought was relief that you arrived. Tailgated by the second thought.

"Hear the Lion roar, guys!"

Then, in a comment, you say you're getting soft. Sure you are. You simply know you have nothing to prove because you've already done it.

Let it out. I'm not bashful about letting my ego show, you shouldn't be either. It would actually be refreshing to hear you outright brag, for once, you humble poet you!

Bob Olcott said...

Steve, You're absolutely right about the winter riding style. I just took my Genuine Buddy 50 for a 115 mile trip to Seacoast Harley-Davidson, for a 6500 mile service, and the focus of the ride is just as you say...I've been fortunate this winter to have "kept it perpendicular" [so far], this winter riding season--about 1800 miles, so far this "winter".-Bob

Steve Williams said...

Chuck: It took me a long time to realize that we don't all see the same things. Riding certainly has changed how I see the world and the camera is an ongoing lesson in seeing.

I consider myself a perpetual tourist.

Lianna: The switch from Austin to Mass. will be quite a shock. You'll be able to leave the keys hanging for a long time there if you want.

SkuterHijau said...

I'd agree with Rob-much respect for riding in that weather!

Steve Williams said...

Charlie6: The Ural rig seems perfect for winter forays. And so functional all around. Do you miss the no lean riding though?

Speaking of sidecar rigs have you ever visited Ara and Spirit's adventures on Oasis of My Soul?

A guy and his dog in a Beemer sidecar rig. Great adventures.

Steve Williams said...

irondad: Hmmm. A lot to think about. Maybe fodder for a post rather than respond here.

I certainly was relieved to arrive at Kissell Motorsports safely though I was not terribly concerned that I wouldn't. I may be kidding myself but I put a lot of stock in my willingness to pull over and wait for traffic to disappear before I attempt sections of road that I am uncertain about, especially at night.

I'm like those early explorers of the Colorado River who scouted out sections before plunging forward.

Well, maybe not exactly like that. But you get the idea.

So look for a longer post. I'll credit you with the outing!

Steve Williams said...

Bob: A winter trip of 115 miles on a 50cc scooter is quite an accomplishment. Glad you stayed upright. You are far more serious about winter riding than I am this year. I'm turning into a couch potato. Before you know it I'll be buying Stabil or something like that...

Steve Williams said...

SkuterHijau: Thank you for the support. I almost missed your comment as I was scrolling through the list.

=gc= said...

Hey Steve, you're bringing back some fond memories and giving me the itch to ride in winter again.

Do be careful out there, however. As you know, I was caught out a couple of times on the Baron, and it's amazing how far you and your scooter slide when you fall on icy roads.

What are you using for tires on your Vespa?

Steve Williams said...

gc: Nice to hear from you. You started all this winter riding. Hope things are going well with you. I keep checking to see if you break with style and start rambling about something other than riding on your blog as Conchscooter suggested.

I have Avon tires on my Vespa at the moment. Nothing fancy, just straight street tires. I still haven't gotten around to putting those Kenda's on...

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Steve:

Take a deep breath and drink the Teutonic KoolAde. If you feel like having wiener schnitzel for breakfast, than you are destined to have the roundels in your garage.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad
Twisted Roads

Just Plane Jayne said...

talk about being fearless out there on the road! love the winter pics too; we are still drowning in snow here in Maryland even after an entire month. Can't wait for spring to finally arrive!

Paul said...

Iphone: It could be worse you have to admit. I'm excited about coming home (i'm in india). Everyone here is on scooters and motorcyles and i want to ride my g650xmoto. Kissells is fixing the stalling problem, and I hope also remapping the air/fuel to take into account teh holes in the muffler baffles. I had to laugh. Craig Kissel said to me, "Stop drilling holes in my motorcycles!" He was serious.

Lee Shin said...

spot on with this write-up, i like the way you discuss the things. i'm impressed, i must say. i'll probably be back again to read more. thanks for sharing this with us.

Lee Shin