Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Subzero Education

There are days when the universe conspires to make sure you understand how little you know. Today was one of those days.

Once upon a time there was a boy who had a Vespa.  The boy loved his Vespa and would go to great lengths to ride it.  He would carefully identify opportunities to undertake errands or commute to work on days best left to life behind the wheel of an automobile.  Like this morning, one of the coldest mornings in years.

I knew it would be cold today and wasn't surprised to see the Weather.com app on my phone display -8F.  The first arrogant thought -- I've ridden in colder weather.  And that's true though I was younger and healthier at the time, one of many little facts I would choose to overlook.

Walking up the street with the dog was pleasant.  Walking back with my face to the wind I was muttering about the cold but realized it wouldn't be so bad on the Vespa at 50mph.

The scooter started right up but my riding gear was frozen having spent the night in the unheated garage.  But I was only going 8 miles, I can stand a little cold.

Don't let anyone tell you that riding in the cold is simply a matter of the right clothes and the right state of mind.  That's only part of it which I somehow forgot though was reminded of not far from home and throughout the day.

My friend Pete Kauffman, the Art Editor where I work and also an intrepid Yamaha Vino rider, made this picture when I arrived at the office.  He arrived in a Chrysler product.

Pete will appear again later in this story.

So let's do a bit of deconstruction on this picture so I can share a few lessons I learned again on the way to work.

1.  Don't forget that a Vespa sitting inside an unheated garage all night connected to a Battery Tender is not the same as a Vespa sitting outdoors for 8 hours not connected to a Battery Tender.

2.  The multiple layers necessary to ride at -8F make you look fat.

3.  When the temperature drops below zero you really should choose your Olympia one-piece winter riding suit instead of the jacket and pants you wear when it's 60F.

4.  A lot of moisture drips out of car mufflers and freezes instantly on the road.  With all the cars going to work there is a lot of slippery stuff around.

5.  When you walk your dog through the snow at -8F the snow that's collected in the cleats of your riding boots freezes solid producing a sole of ice that you discover at the first stop sign.

6.  You can't hold your breath all the way to work, you can't ride far with the visor open, and you can't get the frost off the visor.

7.  You shouldn't let your fuel supply get so low that you have to stop for gas when it's -8F outside.

8.  You should really pay attention when putting your gear on so all the little openings are sealed.

When I finally got to my desk I was grateful the heat was on and that I didn't learn any of the lessons the hard way.  At least not until the end of the day.

Fast forward to the end of the day.  Vespa cranks but will not start.  Continued cranking drains the battery.  I'm not riding home.

I call Pete and ask if he has jumper cables.  A few minutes later the starter is cranking but no fire.  We both suspect a fuel supply problem.  Something has frozen up.  Pete takes me home and I leave the scooter.

I return later and move the Vespa into a small workspace and attach it to a Battery Tender and hope the warm temperature will perform some kind of magic.  One hour later the Vespa starts and I ride home in the dark.

I learned a few things today, got the subzero riding out of my system, and am now thinking about food.

Does it get any better than that?

22 comments:

Richard M said...

Nice posts of the things that go through your mind. I think that the windshield and fairing make a huge difference as I still use the same riding gear as the rest of the year with the addition of the heated liner and gloves. Yesterday, I forgot to turn the heat on and didn't even feel chilled let alone cold. Also, I move around quite a bit on the sidecar rig as I rarely just cruise down the highway.

I also don't buy the "… the right clothes and the right state of mind" unless the state of mind is crazy...

Bryce Lee said...

An old fashioned winter is upon us! Locally Tuesday January 8 we were colder than Antarctica. Now as to the chilled owner/operator of said Vespa, he is older in chronological years than he was the last time such a winter visited upon us. He has also had some medical issues as described in his Blog. Maybe it is time Steve utilized the Honda Fit on these very cold work days, eh?

A frozen brain is not useful to your employer at the best of times.

kz1000st said...

Back in 1982 to 1984 I bravely decided I could use a bike year round. It totally lost its appeal after the first winter when I had to ride on 10 degree mornings 25 miles to work on a parkway at 60 mph. I froze, which hurt, but the thawing was even more painful. Now I freeze vicariously through you Steve and all I have to do to warm up is sit back away from the computer

Canajun said...

For you it's 8 lessons learned. For me it's 8 more reasons not to ride in sub-zero temperatures. Good on ya for doing it though.

Charlie6 said...

I think of your lessons learned as lessons re-learned since you're an experienced cold weather rider.

Cold is cold, a proper "state of mind" will only get you so far. The right riding gear on the other hand, is still key.

Sorry about the dead battery, hopefully it was just a low charge and not something else. I now carry a battery jumper kit/device for just such occasions...even used it once until switching to 5w30 oil fixed that cranking issue.

As to lesson #6. Perhaps a snow helmet? Mine comes with a breath mask and when working (sometimes its an issue due to my small nose) keeps things fog-free and no need to open the visor at stops.

So, what did you get to eat? ;)

Dar said...

Glad that you thawed out sufficiently at work. I used to be an intrepid winter scooterist and motorcyclist, but I have finally given into the fact that as much as I loved being a 'hearty soul' it was time to take to the cage this winter. I just don't bounce back from the continual cold and torrential rain we get here on the Island. Cold winter riding does come down to gear, mind set and experience and you are a braver soul than most. Try layering in some Merino wool base layers close to your skin, it has amazing thermal and cooling properties also a good pair of electric socks. Stay warm buddy!

bob skoot said...

Steve:

One day last year, during some snow flurries where the road was starting to get slippery, I saw a rider on a motorcycle with legs outstretched like an outrigger . . . The road was starting to get white

I thought to myself, "what a fool . . . "

of course I'm not inferring that this rider's name was Steve

bob
Riding the Wet Coast

VStar Lady said...

Yeah for the all the 'Petes' in our lives. Good that the lessons were learned without peril ... now will you get in from the freakin' cold!

Keith - Circle Blue said...

Oh how I love my kickstarter :)

That's why the Symba goes when it gets cold and the Kymco sits and waits for warmer weather...or, when I can leave from the garage, ride, and then return to the garage. I just don't trust it setting out all day in the cold.

I'm still not riding. There's a chance tomorrow, but we'll see. It will depend on what happens during our "Winter Storm Advisory" today.

Last thoughts, riding learnings seem more like a spiral. I learn a lesson and next time I approach the problem I realize there is more there to learn. For me its one of the things that keeps riding so alive for me.

thumper said...

Enjoy your blog, but not the recent weather. Stop by Taipei-Scooter-Style.com to see how winter riding here differs from the conditions you deal with.

Capt. Sandor said...

Unless I'm on a road trip, my bike doesn't leave the garage below 45F!

You are a CRAZY man (but I love your blogs)!

Love your pictures too. Stay safe and keep the shiny side up!

Steve Williams said...

RichardM: It's strange what goes through my head. I can only post a small fraction of those thoughts...

The cold you deal with is a far cry from where I find myself. Even so cold is cold and it's just a challenge to cope with on a lot of levels. For most I would think it is no fun at all...

Steve Williams said...

Bryce Lee: Winter seems to have softened here and I am driving the Honda Odyssey to work. Go figure.

I think my employers wonders sometime if my brain is frozen...

Steve Williams said...

kz1000st: I can relate to your description of riding in the cold. There have been days that I swear, "Never again". But then something happens...

Steve Williams said...

Canajun: This is the first year I've received a lot of comments and inquires politely (and not) suggesting that riding in winter is not a smart thing to do. Or share lest I send unsuspecting riders to their reward.

I hope no one feels it is something they should undertake. I only want to share my experiences. And part of that, after some years of winter riding, is that more and more I am beginning to not want to deal with the cold.

Steve Williams said...

Charlie6: Turned out it was a frozen fuel line. Battery was fine. Pushed the scooter into the office, let it warm up for an hour, and bingo, started right up. Need to add something to the fuel to keep it liquid I guess.

I'll look into the snow helmet. I've heard of them but never saw one. It gets old holding your breath...

Steve Williams said...

Dar: I am approaching, if I haven't already arrived, at scaling back my winter riding. I just don't feel up to it on a lot of days. Requires some energy that I just don't have all the time...

So I'm with you -- take the cage.

Steve Williams said...

bob skoot: Those outriggers really work well if your ride doesn't weigh 500lbs or more.

What a fool -- I've said that very thing upon seeing my reflection in a window...

Steve Williams said...

V Star Lady. Indeed! Great to have a friend who can lend a helping hand.

Steve Williams said...

Keith: A kickstarter on the Vespa would be nice. I hate relying on a starter but what can you do.

Hope you find some decent weather to ride. I hope we all don't have to wait until May to be comfortable.

Steve Williams said...

thumper: Checked out your blog -- everything looks so green and warm! I"ll have to spend some more time exploring. Thanks for the heads up on your site.

Steve Williams said...

Captain Sandor: Thanks for your kind words about Scooter in the Sticks and your restrained assessment of my winter riding. I'm sure others have restrained their comments as well.

Hah!