Saturday, February 04, 2012

5 Reasons Not to Ride a Motorcycle or Scooter in the Winter

While this winter has been unseasonably mild it’s still cold when riding. A few weeks ago a ride into town was a bit dicey because of periodic remnants of snow and ice. It's frustrating to show up at the motorcycle parking space and find it full of salty snow and slush.

It left me wondering about riding in winter and the questions I field about being out in the cold. I claim no wisdom, just a few observations on why you should store your machine for the winter.

1. You’ll reek havoc on your brain.

Riding in winter means you have to deploy your intellect to manage a range of complex assessments of self, skill, road, traffic, weather, destination, route and more. If you believe riding is about freedom and nothing else then it might be best to stay behind (or beneath) the wheel. That way you can sustain your fantasy and keep your brain relaxed.

2. You’ll damage your ego.

In cold weather you ride alone. Tribes of riders to face the elements don’t exist. No one will care, admire or recognize your presence on the road. Those that do will think you’re nuts or an idiot, or that you have no friends. Any thoughts of heroic deeds in facing the cold will have to be yours alone. If you need recognition it might be wise to keep your ego intact, stay at home, and clean and polish the bike.

3. Weaknesses will surface.

Winter riding will expose the limits of your physical and psychological tolerance for cold. We all have them but not everyone knows what they are. Discovering that you can’t hack riding at 55F may be too much to bear if you’ve dreamed of trips at the freezing mark. Regardless, whether at 50, 30 or -10 degrees, you’ll find your limits. Make sure you are ready for the knowledge.

4. Grit, grime, and road filth will make you cry.

You may try to convince people that you can’t ride because the stuff on the road creates too big a hazard to ride, reducing traction and making turns especially dangerous. In your heart you know it’s bullshit and you really just don’t want to get your machine dirty. Riding in winter, at least in areas that use salt and grit, will turn your motorcycle or scooter into a nasty thing.

5. You’ll question your sanity.

If you get onto the road in the cold, allow your machine to get dirty, feel your fingers and toes grow numb, and fight to keep your visor clear, at some point in the process you’ll stop and ask, “Why am I doing this?”.

Standing at a mental crossroad -- one direction leads on to the secret nirvana of winter riding. The other to self doubt, disappointment, excuses and internal arguments that seek to soften the thoughts of failure. Stay at home and protect your sanity.


Charlie6 said...

Hi Steve!

Re point #1: It's not wreaking havoc on my brain, it's what keeps it well lubricated and alert brain is a happy brain.

Re point#2: Yep, the solitude is one of the bennies of winter riding.

Re point#3: Cold is definitely not something to be unprepared for. Still, heated grips, grip covers, and warm layers go a long way. Being a mile closer to the sun than you flatlanders helps also. :)

Re point#4: I heartily concur, winter riding equals dirty slush freezing on your ride. Still, it doesn't take much to wash her down afterwards. No polish though.

Re point#5: Most times, I find Winter riding Nirvana, other times not so much, but it is still riding!

Sure, if unprepared you're going to get cold.....if it's warm enough, your ride will get dirty....if it's cold enough, ice will coat everything....a fogged up/iced-covered visor will make life "interesting".....a breakdown will definitely cramp your style but if you're prepared, you'll survive.

Maybe I'm just warped, but I do enjoy Winter riding more than Summer Riding......

Good post!


Redleg's Rides

Colorado Motorcycle Travel Examiner

Orin said...

The calendar says winter, but today in Bellingham was sunny and 60F. And yet I was having a go-round with someone on Facebook who says that's too cold to ride. And this person is a PNW native who presumably had the concept of dressing in layers drummed into her head from an early age.

I know lots of people who subscribe to the same thought process: unless conditions are absolutely perfect, no riding. I've come to think this is a result of the manner in which all two-wheeled vehicles in the U.S. (even bicycles) are fetishized by their owners.

I didn't ride during our week of winter because of the likelihood of dropping the GTS on the ice rink that was Bellingham's streets during that time. But I have since. And apparently, I'm the only one who knows how to dress for temperatures below 60F...

Scootin' Old Skool

Adrian from YouMotorcycle said...

If these were the best "reasons" I'll keep on riding my scoot through the winter in Toronto Canada lol

Low Buck Rider said...

Compared to the rest of you I am a fair weather rider,due to geography. As kid riding it was far more about thrills and getting from point A to B. Returning to riding in my second half of life it has become so much more, though it may sound trite, my own sort of therapy. I find a kindred spirt with those that brave the elements at both ends of the scale.

Mike D

Steve Williams said...

Charlie6 (Dom): I agree with your comments on winter riding keeping the brain lubricated. I just wanted to remind those who haven't ventured out in the cold that there is a lot more involved.

You probably ride in more harsh weather than anyone I know. So you're the expert. People should visit your site to see how it's done!

Steve Williams said...

Orin:I like your idea of things being fetishized. It certainly is the case with Leica cameras -- they aren't to be used much lest you scuff or ding them. And only in perfect weather because rain or dust or snow will hurt them.

Maybe the same thing at work for lots of expensive scooters and motorcycles. And chrome.

60F is perfect riding weather though. Geez....

Steve Williams said...

Adrian: I guess you caught me, my half tongue in cheek there are no good reasons not to ride in the winter.

I purposely left out ice and snow. That seems pretty self explanatory....

Ride safe in the north!

Steve Williams said...

Low Buck Rider (Mike): Regardless of where you live in North America there will be some type of weather that's outside the norm -- cold, hot, rain, something. Pushing through them on two wheels does provide a sense of accomplishment, for me at least. And I think it is part of the therapy you hint at.

I'm with you about the quality of riding in the second half of life. Hope I'm around for the third half!

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Mr. Williams:

To me, nothing devalues the joy of riding in the winter liker the thought of the pitting of rock salt on delicate and expensive motorcycle engine cases.

Of course, the threat of dumping the bike and banging the living hell out of it is equally sobering. You are a better rider than I, and a braver man, but we knew that already.

Fondest regards,

Unknown said...

hmmm, those all sound like the commments from those who ONLY ride the weekends. Never in the rain, never at night...only winter reason that parks me is ice. That in spite of living in montana.

Steve Williams said...

unknown: Yeah, you're probably right. This was my way of taunting people into riding in the winter.

Montana.... brrrrrrrrr.

Wrench said...

I agree with Charlie6, although it still drives me crazy to see the bike dirty. I need it for my mental state of mind to prevent SAD (seasonal ativated depression). Yes this is really what it is called.

Riding is a dance of balencing risks. As long as you are properly prepared, you can have some very enjoyable winter rides.

Poppawheelie said...

Did you say, "Hack riding at 55F?" If you got that URAL Hack, you could ride any temperature, anywhere, any condition, any time. Better get that URAL.

learn how to ride a motorcycle said...

I don't live in a place where there is a winter season but this article is really helpful. I hope other riders will consider these things before they ride during winter.

Adrian said...

Steve: I'm still riding the 2007 season. What's a little snow and ice?! This is Canada. They put us on snow and ice after birth to wash the yucky off and get us primed for hockey season.