When we drive a car, the only weather conditions we pay attention to are the extremes, like harsh snow, down pouring rain, hot or cold. Most of us have learned to adjust to different kinds of weather conditions and drive on.
Yet when it comes to riding a motorcycle, we have to approach this subject in a whole new way. For example, for a quick drive to the store and back, in the car you probably wouldn’t grab a pair of gloves or even a jacket. But on a motorcycle, that same ride would require not only gloves but maybe a completely different outfit!
So let’s talk about some of the things to think about in order to be better prepared for riding in any weather, especially if the weather changes during our ride!
The clothes you wear
Your body is a functioning part of the motorcycle. Much of the control we rely on depends on our being comfortable with regard to body temperature and ease of movement. If you are an ATGATT (all the gear, all the time) kind of person, you will need different gear for hot and cold days and anything in-between. I covered some of this in a different blog. So for now, keep in mind you want to stay warm on a cold day, cool on a hot day, and have freedom of movement at all times. It’s tempting to just jump on the bike and go. I can’t count the number of times I have not dressed warmly enough for a ride and regretted it. In fact, I remember once I started out on a ride and saw the temperature drop 15 degrees in a span of 30 minutes. That kind of change can drastically affect your ride if you are not ready for it.
My buddy who rode only in a T-shirt that day was not happy!
Great rule of thumb, on cold days layer up and have a way to take off layers and store them on your bike, in a saddle bag, or even in a backpack. On a warm day, bring along an extra layer such as a thermal shirt or warmer gloves. Prepare to be flexible, as the weather can change during the ride!
How you ride
Road conditions can change in a matter of miles, sometimes yards. This is especially true of the fall and spring months when weather conditions often overlap. So let’s take a moment to look at the four seasons we ride in, and what to watch for.
Many times we can head out in the morning when the sun is just coming up. If the temperature has been even near freezing during the night, this can create ice hazards on days calling for sunny skies and mild temperatures. Black ice can hide in areas known for having water on the roads. Often snow melts during the warmth of the day, causing water to pile up on the road only to freeze as the temperature drops at night. Be on guard and watch for this in the early morning.
Also in the springtime, animals stumble out of wherever they have been spending winter. Ever notice there is more road kill on the roads in the spring? Many of them are working off that long sleep and stumble out into the road, watch for these little critters as they can end your ride pretty quickly!
In summer, traffic patterns change! People are on vacation and are often driving where they don’t know the roads. Watch how people are driving, especially if you live in a tourist town.
Another hazard to watch for are tree branches. All winter long trees are weakened by the weight of snow. A good windy rainstorm can knock these branches into the road. Keep in mind, although the storm of the night before is over, it may have left little “gifts” for you. Watch out for them!
Two words, wet leaves. All those trees turning amazing colors are depositing leaves everywhere. Ride through dry leaves and it’s not such a big deal; they will fly out of your way. Hit a patch of wet leaves when coming around a twisty, and you can suddenly find yourself in a heap of trouble. You better stay alert and watch for this!
Most of us don’t want to head out into the snow, and that is easy enough to avoid. But the cold weather can create hazards for us that we may not be aware of. For one, bridges can be very dangerous to ride across. The wind whipping under a bridge cools the surface temperature down and this can cause ice to build up. We can be heading down the road, enjoying a nice ride on clean pavement, only to hit patches of ice on a bridge if we are not watching for it. Be careful, look for the changes in the coloring of the bridge, you can often see where the ice is building up as darker patches.
However, I would say the most common hazard of riding in winter is the cold; stay warm and dry! If you start to get to cold, pull over and warm up. A fifteen-minute pause can make all the difference in the world
I’m fortunate enough to live in a state where we can ride year round. The winters are mild enough to allow for some really good days. Where weather allows for this, as long as you understand the hazards to look out for, you can learn to avoid them and enjoy the ride – even in winter!
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but as you learn to watch for changes around you, you will begin to recognize how the seasons change our ride, and how to adjust to those changes.
My next blog will cover some advice for women riders!
Until then; remember, ride safe, ride smart, and have fun!
David Ianetta was born and raised in Boston, MA. After moving around in his younger years, he now lives in North Carolina. David has a passion for riding motorcycles,often exploring the scenic back roads of NC with is wife, Rika, who rides her own along side him.
David also writes a Daily Blog for Freedom Biker Church called, “Daily Rock“ located at www.freedombikerchurch.com and is a contributing writer for Southeastern Rider magazine.