Posts Tagged With: winter

Dashing through the… No

By the time I arrived at my bike’s winter home yesterday, my mood was even worse than Grumpy Cat’s. I got there safely, and the PC800 is tucked away in my friend Brian’s garage for the winter, but getting there was interesting, to say the least.

We’d made plans for me to bring my bike up yesterday, weather permitting. Last year I didn’t get it there before it got buried in a snowbank in my parking lot, where it remained all winter, so I was quite motivated to get a roof over it this year. Naturally, the weather forecast turned lousy for the weekend – a classic New England Nor’easter, with a chance of our first sight of snow. It looked pretty grim – cold, windy, and rainy, a bad combination for riding a motorcycle. And when my Ford failed inspection, I lost my ability to tow a trailer, so I had to ride it there. Otherwise it would’ve been a no brainer and well worth the money to rent a trailer for a few hours.

But when I woke up, the roads were actually dry. It wasn’t supposed to clear off until later in the day. I asked Brian what conditions were like on his end, and they were the same. I’d still never consider riding in such conditions under normal circumstances, but my window of opportunity had arrived, and my bike could be buried in a snowbank again by the time our scheduled synched up again in two weeks. So I put on extra warm layers, geared up, jump started the bike (it had been sitting a while and didn’t quite crank enough to fire), and hit the road.

The first thing I noticed was that my Metzlers had way less grip at 40F than my usual riding temperatures. Small cracks in the pavement caused my front tire to slip to the side just a tiny bit. No thrilling heroics this trip – just slow and steady. I’d already decided to skip the interstate and take back roads to keep the speed and windchill down, as well as give me some protection from the strong winds. It started to sprinkle a little. Then I saw snowflakes. I was actually riding my motorcycle in the snow. That’s a first. But I knew the temperature at the ground was above freezing, and the roads would not be icing up on me. If conditions stayed like this, I’d make it just fine.

The rain/snow/sleet/slush/whatever you call this type of precipitation started coming down a little heavier, enough to obscure the visor on my helmet. For a while I could get away with wiping it with my gloved hand from time to time, but I hadn’t RainXed my visor lately, and I wasn’t going fast enough to get the clearing effect anyway. At an intersection I pulled into a gas station to take the helmet off and give it a thorough wipe. Sadly it didn’t last long after I hit the road.

Google Maps on my phone either changed my route partway or neglected to tell me a turn, because soon it was telling me to turn around. I had to sit through several long red lights to do this, which obscured my vision once again and cost me some time. Conditions were getting worse, but I was more than halfway there, and the fastest way out of this was to finish the trip. Slowly, I pressed on.

I found myself stuck in a road construction zone. In this weather?!? On a Sunday morning?!? Even worse, the pavement was gone, and the road was down to dirt – or, in this case, slippery packed mud. Once the cop had us go, I proceeded at walking pace, at best. I didn’t need the cop’s hands down “slow” signal to remind me to keep my speed down. He must’ve thought I was crazy, and he’d probably be right. Fortunately, there’s no law against that. The mud lasted a quarter mile or so, and then I found pavement again. But I had no time for a sigh of relief.

I started going through pockets of colder air. I was collecting snow and ice on my windshield – a bad sign. The roads were still just wet, but soon my visor started icing up like my windshield. I was still able to wipe it off, but this now required pulling over and stopping since a quick rub with the glove wouldn’t do it. Soon I was unable to keep it clear enough to see through. I left the visor open and tried to angle my head so that I could collect the ice on my visor before it hit my glasses. This worked for a while, until my glasses suffered the same fate as the visor and themselves started icing over frequently. I was just two miles away from my destination, but my visibility was destroyed.

So I took off my glasses, put them in my pocket, and pressed on, slowly. My vision isn’t very good, but it was actually better without my glasses than with, the way they kept icing up. I still had to stop from time to time to wipe the excess water buildup from around my eyes, but at least I could see. This also gave traffic behind me frequent opportunities to pass, which was good because I was going so slow. I relied on the blue line on Google Maps to tell me where to turn, since I couldn’t read the street signs without my glasses. But a couple of turns later, I pulled into a driveway filled with Miatas – I’d arrived.

We got me into the garage, with lots of scrap cardboard under the bike to soak up the water both my bike and my gear were dripping. I soon found myself drinking a hot coffee with a large dose of rum mixed in, perfect to warm me up in several ways. It’s not like I was riding or driving myself home. While I drank that, Brian scraped the snow and ice off the front of the bike into a bowl. He commented that bringing my bike here was supposed to keep it OUT of the snow as he dumped the bowl’s frozen contents into the sink.

After a bit of drying off, and lunch at a local brew pub, we rearranged the garage some to slide the bike in behind his dad’s Mercedes, leaving the other side of the garage available to pull another car in. I added some marine Sta-Bil to the gas tank, and backed outside to run the bike a bit to work it into the carbs. We started a brake job on the Merc, only to realize that there were some electronics and sensors involved that we didn’t have documentation for, so we left it alone rather than risk damaging it, as he already had on his Mini Cooper. So we maneuvered my bike behind the Merc – its home for the winter. Eventually Brian drove me home.

What an ordeal. Is this what high altitude passes in the Rocky Mountains are like, even in summer? I suppose one thing I can take away from this experience is that when adverse conditions hit, and I find myself in over my head, I can still manage to get through, or at least to someplace safe. So that’s something I guess. Still, it’s an experience I hope to never repeat, ever. At least I got there safely, and the bike is put away for the winter.

I guess I’ll have to find something else to write about here for a while…

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Categories: day trip | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Dashing Through the… No.

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Getting there

Time marches on, and it is, in fact, March. Much of the snow has gone away, and my bike has stopped doing its Han Solo in carbonite impression.

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I’m going to be a little late getting it back on the road, most likely. Due to the law and the way the dashboard lights on my Ford are wired, it unexpectedly failed inspection for inoperative antilock brakes. That alone shouldn’t fail it, by the law, but because that car also turns on the red BRAKE light on the dashboard along with the ABS light, it failed for that technicality. The diagnosis was a dead ABS module, which was going to cost a four digit figure to replace to even have a chance of passing. Being an 11 year old Ford with 160,000 miles, I decided it was time to put that money toward a replacement car instead. To make a long story slightly less long, the stars aligned, and I bought this.

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It’s a brand new Subaru BRZ. I’ve been researching and pondering replacing the Ford later this year, but the inspection fiasco forced me to move much sooner than expected. The stars aligned, and I got the exact car I wanted. The downside is it took a much higher investment than I planned on – my most expensive inspection sticker ever – and I’m out of spending money until next month. That includes getting the bike ready for spring, except the battery, which is cheap and easily replaced myself. But the front tire and any other work it needs will have to wait until April.

Early April will be a big bike time, though, not only for preparing the PC800, but for Ana to take her MSF course, and to possibly revisit the Silverwing, which I technically still own. I may find myself putting both bikes back on the road – in this case, his and hers. But one step at a time.

Meanwhile, I expect I’ll be doing a lot more bike commuting this year. My new job is a 30-40 minute commute that doesn’t have much stop and go traffic – far better than my old commute to Lexington. I have a much more fun car to drive now, but I suspect I’ll commute by bike a lot more than I have since last August.

I’ve also been so busy lately that I haven’t put much thought into potential trips for this year. Some of that depends on what happens with Ana and the Silverwing. Either way I still want to take some longer weekend trips myself, both for the higher mileage I can cover than a brand new rider, and, I admit, to simply get away from it all, alone, for a couple of days. After all, that’s how it all started.

Categories: commuting, planning | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Enough already!

OK, this is getting ridiculous.

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It’s kept snowing quite regularly, and we’ve been getting more than the forecast said we would – 3-5″ becomes a foot, light rain becomes 1-3″… Fortunately, it’s supposed to get well above freezing the next couple of days. I’ll be at work, so I won’t be able to do dig it out just yet, but I hope nature does a bit of the work for me – after all, she made this mess.

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Another Day, Another Snowstorm

Sad motorcycle is sad.

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We just got another foot of snow yesterday, with more possible this weekend. (I fixed the tarp before sundown.) It’s looking like I might have to wait until spring to do much of anything with it at this point. Though I do have to give the plow guys credit for not endangering nor excessively burying the bike, either.

Ironically, being this buried is a recent thing. Just a couple of weeks ago, it was warm enough and clear enough for me to jump start the bike and attempt a quick ride. I didn’t get very far – just around the block. The battery is completely dead, and will need replacement at the beginning of riding season. The lights flickered as a result, and the engine was running rather rough. I hope that was because of insufficient electrical power rather than gunked up carburetors. I’ll run some Seafoam through my next full tank of gas regardless. There’s also the front tire to replace. I was just going to get it through the local shop like I did with the back tire last summer, but then Kate offered to tow my bike up to her bike club shop garage thing and do it ourselves. Sweet! I’ll definitely share that experience here when we get to it. Unfortunately that’s going to take a bit of digging first.

Categories: mechanical | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

How To Crash

This is a story about what happened to me in my car yesterday, but there are some lessons for motorcyclists within it.

It rained all night, but the ground was cold because it’s winter, so it was extremely icy in the morning.  Even worse, they hadn’t sanded the road in and out of the complex I live in.  I saw an email from a neighbor warning that the curve on the hill at the exit was extremely slippery.  Forewarned is forearmed – I’d take it very slow driving down that hill.

On my way to the exit, I was flagged down by another one of my neighbors.  He warned me not only of the ice, but also that his car had slid off the road at that corner and was partially blocking the road.  Again, forewarned is forearmed.  It’s a left curve, so I knew he’d slid to the outside of the turn, on the right, so I would crawl down the left side of the road around his stuck car.

I had all kinds of warning.  Like a rally driver with his co-driver’s pace notes, I knew exactly what was around the corner before I could even see it, set myself up for the turn accordingly, and proceeded at literally walking pace.  The one thing I didn’t know was that the ice on that corner was as slippery as the most slippery frozen lake I’d ever been on, and since it was on a hill there was almost nothing I could do once I started sliding, which inevitably I did.

Once the car started understeering toward the outside of the turn, I immediately realized that my fate would be the same as my neighbor. If his car wasn’t in the way, I might have been able regain grip in the snow on the grass, make the turn, and gone on my way.  (I later saw tire tracks in that area indicating that some people had done exactly that.) But his car was directly in the way, I was already sliding off the road, and the only thing I could do was choose where and how I was going off. If I decided it was time for some thrilling heroics to save the slide, there was an excellent chance I’d hit my neighbor’s car. So I ditched the thrilling heroics, locked up my brakes (I was going so slow, ABS couldn’t tell the difference between 2mph and lockup), and chose to slide straight off the edge of the road instead of curving around toward the other car.  There was a stake at the edge of the pavement.  I went straight toward it, hit it, and came to a stop in the snow.

The only damage was to my ego (and the stake).  That damage was promptly repaired by another neighbor (also a biker) saying that considering my racing and motorcycle experience, seeing me slid off the road was rather like Mike Tyson saying that a bar fight was getting a little rough.

But I was stuck, since my car is rear wheel drive, and my rear wheels were still on the super icy road.  Any attempt I made to rock the car or back out resulted in a little wheelspin, which caused the back of my car to start sliding down the hill toward my neighbor’s car.  I gave up my extraction efforts until the sander truck finally showed up and we got his car out of there, at which point I simply backed up and was on my way.

What does any of this have to do with motorcycling?  Plenty.  When most people realize there’s nothing they can do to avoid having an accident, they either panic or give up, which are effectively the same thing.  They resign themselves to the fact that the vehicle is heading off the road or directly toward a solid object and just let it happen.

No, no, no.  Even when you can’t avoid an accident, you often still have a choice of HOW you’re going to have an accident.  In my case, I chose to lock my brakes and slide straight off the road instead of continuing to struggle to regain control and likely hit my neighbor’s car.  Yes, I got myself stuck because of it.  But getting myself stuck fifteen feet up the road from my neighbor’s stuck car is much, much better than crashing into my neighbor’s car because I’d given up and allowed the car to slide wherever physics would take it, or – even worse – because I was trying to bravely maneuver around it and failed miserably.

On a bike, where in an impact with pretty much anything you’re going to lose, it’s vital that you not give up control even after you realize you can’t avoid a crash.  It drives me crazy when I hear stories of motorcycle accidents and the rider says, “I had to lay the bike down.”  No, you didn’t!  By laying the bike down, you leave yourself at the mercy of the laws of physics.  An object in motion will remain in motion unless acted upon by an outside force.  A bike and rider sliding down the road on their sides can only go in that one direction that was committed to when the bike was laid down until either friction stops them, or more likely they hit something solid.  If you don’t lay the bike down and ride it all the way to the crash, you can at least have some control over the nature of that crash.  Would you rather slam into a bus, or into some hedges?  Chances are the hedges would at least cushion your fall a bit, and they certainly wouldn’t run you over.  And besides, the rubber of your tires has a lot more traction and can get you slowed down more quickly than the metal or plastic of your bike.

Remember four years ago when Captain Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenburger made an emergency water landing in the Hudson River in New York City?  Rather than give up and let the jetliner crash when he lost both engines, he controlled the plane all the way down to the water.  Out of 155 passengers plus the crew, there were five minor injuries and no fatalities. A lot of people would’ve died if he’d given up and let it crash.  We don’t typically carry 155 passengers on a bike, but the idea is the same.  Even if you’re definitely going to crash, use what control you still have to minimize the severity of the crash.

And another thing. While you’re trying to maneuver your way into the least bad accident you can, don’t stare at the object you’re trying to avoid.  If I’d stared down the road at my neighbor’s car, thinking “Don’t hit that car, don’t hit that car, don’t hit that car…” I probably would’ve hit my neighbor’s car. That’s called target fixation. It’s natural for your brain to try and steer toward where you want to go.  It’s what you do all the time anyway – you look where you’re going.  It’s instinctive.  So use that to your advantage.  I didn’t look at my neighbor’s car. I looked at that stake by the side of the road, and doggone if I didn’t smack it precisely with the center of my front license plate.  That, too, was target fixation, but in this case I was intentionally using it to my benefit.  Look where you want to go.  Don’t look at the obstacle – look at your way around it.  Find the hole, and go for it.

Aside from motorsport events, where I’m intentionally pushing the limits and hit cones quite regularly, this is the closest I’ve come to an actual accident in many years.  I’m fortunate that things worked out the way they did, and that my instincts have been trained to drive through the crash and look where I want to go.  All that was really at stake was a bit of sheet metal, and no injuries at that speed, but I’m glad I didn’t have that hassle.  I’m moving during the next couple of weeks and I need that car to pull trailers, both for my stuff and for my bikes.

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Midwinter Ride

Last year I had my Silverwing off the road for the winter. My Maine registration ran out in November, and it made no sense to rush right out and register it in Massachusetts only to have it sit for several months.  So it was off the road for six months.  Those six months included the warmest winter we’ve ever had and a distinct lack of snow, which would’ve meant many opportunities to ride throughout the winter if I had the bike on the road.

No missed opportunities this year. Other than pouring marine Sta-Bil into the gas tank, the PC800 is still registered (I renewed it in December, which is the stupid month that ALL motorcycle registrations are due for renewal in Massachusetts) and insured, the battery is still in it, and it’s still ready to ride.  Today, with the temperature hitting 60, the sun out, and an unexpected day off work, although I should be cleaning and packing for my move, I couldn’t resist taking a couple of hours for a rare January ride, and my first ride of 2013.

I took advantage of the opportunity to explore some back roads between my current home and my new one, as well as the area I will be living in.  It’s so much easier to maneuver, look around, and pull over on a bike than in a car. Though I neglected to bring my GPS (I took it inside for the winter), I still found some new-to-me shortcuts to get from place to place in my new area, and also explored what’s around for stores and such. It’ll be a much shorter trip to run routine errands, maybe even not worth gearing up to take the bike. I checked out both nearby commuter rail parking lots and familiarized myself with them without the hassle of driving a big car around. Most of all I enjoyed the sun and the unseasonably warm weather. It felt like I was watching the snow melt before my eyes, and suddenly at one point the roads all changed from wet to dry at the same time when all the snow was gone.

I still managed to do a lot of the mundane stuff I was supposed to do today, but it was worth taking some time off to exercise the bike a bit.

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