It’s April Fools Day today. As I sit hunkered down in my house waiting-out the Corona Virus I started thinking about the start of the 2020 riding season. I began riding back in 1981 and at the beginning of each year there are numerous motorcycle injuries and deaths as the riding season begins. This year I believe it may be worse due to the Rebound Effect.
The Rebound Effect is what happens when you’ve been cooped up through the winter season not being as active nor enjoying your favorite outdoor pastimes as much or at all. As warmth starts to fill the air people flock to the outdoors with a feeling of freedom, urgency and a dose of invincibility. It’s this exact sense of freedom and urgency along with diminished skills (and some carelessness) that are the root of many of these early season accidents.
As warmth begins to arrive here in the Mid-Atlantic states many of us will be thinking of the rides and destinations we want to visit like Maine, Nova Scotia, the Adirondacks, the Great Smokies… but oops, I digress ;-). Soon our Social Distancing “stay-at-home” order will be lifted and riders (i.e. everyone) will be surging to the roads to enjoy the outdoors. With so many vehicles of all types on the roads, anxious to get somewhere, we must use common sense and some prudent judgement if we’re to survive.
With this in mind here is my top-10 list of simple things I’d suggest to help keep you happy, safe and alive.
Make sure your bike is mechanically ready for the road.
If you’ve been dormant through the winter start moving and exercising so your 800 pound bike doesn’t feel like a 1,200 pound bike.
Get your mind ready for riding. Start thinking about your bike, its controls and operation. Visualize starting, stopping and the balance of riding through turns.
Brush up on Physics especially friction, gravity, inertia, momentum, counter-steering and gyroscopic forces. They all play a vital role in safe motorcycling.
Remember how small an area of tire rubber actually touches the road. It’s less than you may think.
When you head out to ride make sure you’re feeling good and alert. If you’re not sure you’re up to riding it may be your inner sense warning you. Pay Attention!!
Don’t rush, enjoy the ride and always practice your riding skills along the way.
Stay alert, don’t let euphoria cloud your judgment.
The road surface tells a story. Watch up ahead for changes in color, shine and contrast. There may be grass clippings, oil, water, sand, stones, animals, etc. all waiting to knock you off your beautifully washed & waxed bike.
Careless and distracted drivers kill (especially at intersections)! Better to wear more protective gear than less, especially early in the riding season.
When I first started riding back in 1981 I was definitely a
fair weather rider. If there was pummeling rain, shivering cold, blistering
heat, hard blustery winds or any combination of these I wasn’t too interested
in venturing out for a ride. As time went on and I started doing longer and
multi-day rides I realized that you can’t always wait-out bad weather
conditions. Oftentimes you have to just ride through it to keep on schedule
with your plans, especially if you’re riding with or meeting others at some
far-off destination. Gradually over time I started figuring out the things I
needed to do to be comfortable and safe in these adverse conditions. In this
blog post on Foul Weather Riding I’ll touch upon some of the things that have
kept me safe over the years. I divide it into four logical parts; bike preparation, clothing, bike handling
and mental preparation.
While it may be true that some bikes handle the elements better than others
some commonsense tweaks can make bad conditions more tolerable. No matter how
hardcore you are, or want to be, a windshield will save you a lot wear and tear
while riding through rain, wind, hot and cold temperatures and especially when
putting on the miles at highway speeds. Now before you go thinking I’m a softy
I’ll admit that I spent my first several years of riding with no windshield…
and yes I was doing long highway rides. I did fine and my forearms became Popeye-strong
holding on at 80 MPH but as time went by I learned how to be more comfortable
so that 1,000 mile+ days were tolerable.
In short, you need a
sufficient windshield and bags to carry all your stuff securely and in dry
comfort (hard bags preferably as they don’t require rain covers). You also need
to be sure there are no outstanding mechanical issues to plague you and that
your bike has been serviced and is ready for the road. You should add any
accessories you feel will keep you comfortable and focused and practice riding
with those accessories. In my case I added several including a tire pressure
monitoring system (TPMS) and a double-insulated water bottle and holder on my
handlebars. The bottle has a popup straw that’s easy to use with my gloved left
hand while riding on long trips.
If you’re mechanical, with the right tools and knowhow,
double check the work your mechanic does as things are often left undone or not
properly done. This can be catastrophic if the wrong bolt is left loose. I’ve
had bolts left loose on several occasions from a few different shops which is why
I do all my own services now as many veteran riders do. Also, understand that
the wear components on your bike are not necessarily the best in the industry but
rather a compromise of sorts. If you take the time to research tires and brake
pads for instance you’ll probably find (through user reviews and word of mouth
mostly) that there are tires and brake pads that offer better traction and
braking in dry and wet conditions than OEM. The tradeoff may be in a shorter
lifespan and higher cost but you’ll need to decide for yourself if better
braking in the rain or tire grip on the road going around that curve are worth
the extra bucks in the long run. For me I buy the best rubber and brake pads I
can buy. Do your research but don’t get too caught up in the “paralysis of
Another item I feel
is very important for managing foul weather are your lights (to see and to be
seen by others). Headlights, taillights, brake lights, turn signals and marker
lights. One night, with your bike in a dark parking lot, walk 75 feet then 150
feet away and look at different angles to inspect your visibility. Make sure
your visibility is sufficient or else make the changes necessary. In my case I
added LED lights to every light on my bike due to the increased light output,
the decreased electrical draw and the instant-on aspect of LED lighting. Since the
dual headlights on my Harley Road Glide were white (of course) I added bright
yellowish-amber Motolights to my brake calipers. From a distance the white lights tend to be drowned-out
by ambient lighting especially on rainy days. These 50 watt Motolight LED’s are
super contrasted and very visible to other drivers. I also added brighter
Custom Dynamics turn signals and brake lights and a third brake light up on my
TourPack that flashes a few times upon braking. This gives me an effective
triangle of brake lights. Other than maybe some better side lighting there’s no
doubt I’ll be seen by others.
CLOTHING: Although there are many opinions and choices
when it comes to motorcycling clothing there are what I call the essentials.
These include a proper helmet, riding jacket, riding pants, riding boots, riding
gloves and raingear. With this group you can be assured of being protected in foul
weather, from airborne debris and in case of a fall.
Helmet: Even if you live in a
non-helmet state like me you’ll need a helmet for riding in the other states
and to help fend off rain, bugs, stones and the cold. Nothing like a hard
beetle, juicy moth or yellow jacket hitting you in the face at 65 MPH. Whether
you choose a half, three-quarter or full helmet is up to you as each offers
different plusses and minuses. I personally use a three-quarter for much of my
riding as I like the airflow and the added protection over my half-helmet. I
like full-face helmets at certain times but don’t use them any longer mainly
due to the field of view restrictions. I also enjoy the convenience of the integrated
face and sun shield of my three-quarter helmet. You may even find yourself with
multiple helmets like most of us.
Jacket: There are many options for riding
jackets from leather to synthetic, waterproof and non-waterproof, shoulder-elbow-back
pads, vented, bright colors or black, etc., etc. In my case I enjoy wearing
some good leather for local a regional rides mainly for its added protection. If
it rains I just throw a rain suit over it. For long rides or really cold temps
I prefer a good synthetic riding jacket like my Klim Latitude Misano. I find
the synthetic keeps me warmer while wearing the same amount of insulation
probably due to the leather holding the cold more than synthetics. Also, many
of the better synthetic jackets are well-vented and waterproof so I can easily adjust
while riding as the temperature changes or if it rains.. a helpful feature on
Pants: For pants you have the choice of
jeans, riding jeans and riding pants and I’ve used them all. Most of the time I
wear jeans or Kevlar riding jeans (like the Defender jeans from Diamond Gusset)
which have Kevlar fabric sewn into the knees, butt and hip areas (very helpful
if you take a slide on the pavement). If it rains I stop to pull over some rain
pants. For long rides I have a pair of Aerostich AD1 Gore-tex riding pants
which have knee pads, very durable fabric and are waterproof so I can keep
going rain or shine. These pants are not vented so they don’t breathe very well
in the heat and humidity. These can be worn over jeans, long underwear, short
pants or just underwear (not recommended).
Boots: For us motorcycling
purists there’s nothing like a great pair of heavy leather, steel toed boots
with a Goodyear lug sole for top protection. Nowadays though you have many
choices even including riding tennis shoes. But if you truly want to protect
your feet and ankles tall quality boots are the ticket. I still have my
original Harley Davidson steel-toed Engineer boots I bought back in 1982.
They’ve been re-soled once but are an incredible hunk of quality leather. I
have a couple others I use as well but quality leather with a good gripping
sole are important. Make sure you keep your leather cleaned and conditioned
with your favorite product. In my case I use Obenauf’s Heavy Duty Leather
Preservative a few times a year but there are other good brands as well. With
care I expect my HD boots to be around another 30 years.
Riding Gloves: If you’re like me
you’ll end up with several different types of riding gloves. Although they’re
all full-fingered, leather-palmed gloves, I have a mesh pair for hot weather,
thick leather pair for modest temps, cold weather insulated gloves and my
Gerbing heated gloves for when it dips below 40F degrees. I also have heated
grips on the bike which are needed along with the heated gloves in freezing
weather. Oh, I also have a pair of synthetic Gore-Tex lined gloves when riding
with my synthetic Klim jacket. With the leather gloves if it rains hard I pull
on waterproof three-fingered over-mitts made by Aerostich. They’re a little
freaky to get used to but work well.
Raingear: Unless you’re able to avoid
the rain like the plague you’ll need to invest in raingear (jacket, pants,
gloves or glove covers and perhaps boot covers). You can go with an expensive
HD Gore-Tex rain suit as I did many years ago or you can buy something like the
Frogg Toggs “Road Toad” jacket and pants for about $80 – $90. Some are made
with waterproof fabric and some just have water resistant fabric but none will
keep you bone dry if you’re in pouring rain all day. If I take the time to put
my suit on carefully I’ll stay mostly dry all day in the rain. For comfort and
safety sake invest in good raingear.
BIKE HANDLING: The number one point here is keeping your
bike upright. The good lighting you installed will help you to be seen but
positioning as you ride is crucial. Hopefully you already know not to linger in
a car’s blindspots but there are many other situations (too many for this post)
you need to be aware of so that you are visible to other drivers. While
positioning to be seen is more important in foul weather being able to properly
manage your clutching, throttling, braking, steering and balancing
simultaneously are critical in staying upright. No matter how proficient you
become you should continually practice the coordination of these 5 key elements
in dry weather, including slow speeds, and “think” about what you’re doing and
the results. It’s with constant practice that you’ll develop and be in tune
with the feel of your bike and the road in all conditions.
Quick story… one slightly rainy day while riding home from
work I was transitioning from a highway and entering the Baltimore beltway.
With very little traffic around I simply hit the throttle a little to cruise
across a few open lanes to the lane I wanted to be in. As I moved across the
lanes I felt a vaguely familiar feeling which I quickly recognized as my rear
tire losing traction and starting a power slide. I immediately let some off the
throttle to give the tire a chance to regain its grip but didn’t over-react
with my steering or trajectory. Fortunately all went fine but had I not had the
experience of this under more controlled conditions it could have ended much
differently. Remember, practicing never ends… an important lesson I learned
while pursuing my Advanced Open Water Scuba Diving Instructor certification
many years ago.
MENTAL PREPERATION: Mental preparation truly begins before you
buy your first motorcycle in making sure you’re of the right mindset and
willing to practice and learn how to be a good and safe rider in an unsafe
world. Fortunately there’s a direct correlation between the effort you put into
riding practice and your safety on the road. The more you think about and
practice generally the safer you’ll be… and riding in foul weather is no
Before you head out for the day you should take some time to
make sure your bike is prepared and your clothing is adequate and adjusted
properly. Be sure to pack additional clothing for all weather extremes because
they can and do happen during even a one day ride. As conditions change during
your ride give thought to how this will affect your comfort and handling of
your bike. Really think about it and adjust your control management “touch”
accordingly. If necessary pull off the road to add/remove gear to stay comfortable.
This is important as the less comfortable you are (cold, hot, damp, tired,
etc.) the less focus you’ll have on bike management at a time when more focus
may be necessary. If you find yourself becoming tired or distracted pull off
the road and take a break. It’s amazing what 10 minutes sitting with your eyes
shut can do to your mental alertness.
As you enjoy your ride you should be visualizing the ride
with its twists and turns. Look around and be aware. Look at the road
conditions near you and think of what could be around the corner. The color,
hue and sheen of the road surface up ahead are a good predictor of what’s to
come. Pay attention and know what it all means. Understand your lane
positioning as it relates to the road. Be one with the road (had to slide this
in ;-). Read, practice and think about what you’re doing, why you’re doing it
and the result.
In closing I’ll just
say that with my love of the outdoors I’ve come to bicycle, hike, camp, fish,
rock climb, scuba dive, kayak AND ride my motorcycle in all conditions and combinations
of conditions over the years. I’ll head out in the early-morning bundled up in
50F degree temps with fog, then have the sun reach high in the sky and turn
blisteringly hot at 97F degrees with humidity, then get hit by a passing
rainstorm(s) with driving winds only to arrive home in the late evening to
chilly temperatures once again. Lots of adjustments happening to be safe and
comfortable in these conditions but this is life out in Nature… and Nature is
where most of the beauty in this world lives.
Fortunately with motorcycling it’s possible to carry all the gear you’ll need for the changing conditions. You’ll just need to learn to be good at predicting the weather then stopping to adjust your clothing as necessary. From all the practicing you’ve done you’ll also be able to adjust your riding management on the fly as conditions warrant. With this you’ll be better able to keep the rubber on the road and your bike upright.
I’ve been riding motorcycles all over the U.S. for 37 years. During this time, and hundreds of thousands of miles, I’ve been most fortunate to have never been in a moving accident. I say moving accident as I have dropped my bike on a few occasions while parked in the driveway, fortunately with minimal damage other than to my pride. Over the years though I’ve been asked many times what advice I would give to new riders or those thinking about buying a bike. Here’s the advice I usually give.
First off, don’t buy a motorcycle just to look cool or to copy a friend. If this is the main reason you want to ride you’re setting yourself up for failure. By the way, “failure” usually means an accident (pain, suffering and/or death) or minimally, wasting your hard-earned cash. If you aren’t passionate about riding or at least very committed you won’t be determined enough to get the proper training and experience necessary to stay safe on the road.
Next, buy a bike that’s suited to YOU in the size, make, model and riding style or as close to these as you can afford. Factor into buying the bike buying the necessary helmets, riding jackets, gloves, boots, pants and assorted accessories that will keep you safe and comfortable in hot, warm and cold weather and in the rain or any combination of these. Of course some of this can be added along the way but to those of us with miles in the saddle we know this can be a real expense so plan for it.
The next thing I’d do is register for a motorcycle safety/riding training program. There are several of them out there which can be found through doing a Google search or asking your local motorcycle shop. One that we offer in my wonderful home state of Pennsylvania is the Pennsylvania Motorcycle Safety Program, http://www.pamsp.com. This awesome program offers classes for all riding levels from new riders to experienced riders. For new riders it will help prepare you to get your license and the classes may even get you a cost break on your insurance policy. One of the best parts is the classes are FREE to Pennsylvania residents. I think this is why PA is such a haven for motorcyclists.
Once you have the proper mindset, bike, equipment, training (and license) the next thing you need is riding experiences. This is where most new riders often fail. The reason is many don’t have the support system of riding friends or else may have a riding friend or two who don’t ride often, ride at conflicting times or ride in a way you don’t care to ride. To stay motivated and gain valuable experience you need saddle time. One way to get out riding is to find group(s) of like-minded people you can ride with and learn from. Sometimes there are events at your local motorcycle dealer you can go to and occasionally make riding friends. There are Meet-Up groups you can connect with and there are riding groups and clubs you can check out. No, I’m not talking outlaw motorcycle clubs. I’m talking friendly, family groups such as the Southern Cruisers Riding Club http://www.southerncruisers.net . The SCRC is a motorcycle riding club you don’t have to “join”. You can just drop in and ride with them. There are rules of proper riding you’ll have to adhere to but you should be doing that anyway. I’ve been dropping in with such a club located in the Baltimore area and have really enjoyed the local and long distance trips we’ve been on and the friendships made.
In summing up, if you truly want to experience the incredible joys of motorcycling, the gorgeous scenery out in the country, the camaraderie and friendships you make along the way, then motorcycling may be for you. To stay interested and passionate though as with any activity you should immerse yourself in it to learn and make friends. Find what part of motorcycling you enjoy the most and pursue it. In my case I enjoy long road trips, alone and with friends. I enjoy the friendly people I meet out in the heartland of our country, the nature I experience in the mountains (along with camping, kayaking and rock climbing) and the thrill of carving some incredible twisty curves through the Adirondack, Ozark and Great Smoky Mountains. I hope to see you on the road one day…