Winter Motorcycle Riding – Part 2 – Riding Safely

Motorcycle Snow Donuts

Snow donuts may not be safe but they really are fun!

I probably shouldn’t start a post on safe winter motorcycle riding talking about snow donuts on a motorcycle, but they are one of the perks of riding a motorcycle in a snowy climate. Yes snow donuts are fun, and riding in the snow is a lot like riding in the mud, only without getting covered from head to toe in all that nasty dirt! LOL

One of the most important rules of riding a motorcycle is ALWAYS USE COMMON SENSE. When I took the New York State approved safe riders course it was the first thing our instructor preached. Most accidents he said, can be avoided using common sense. He also stated that most of what we were about to learn was really just a course in common sense. Riding conditions change in an instant in colder climate regions and you must have a common sense approach to ice, snow, rain, and traffic conditions in order to ride safely. So snow donuts in your driveway or an empty parking lot are a lot of fun, but once you get out on the open road, you may want to incorporate a more common sense approach to your riding.

Living in New York state, one of my biggest fears is hitting black ice. I’ve had mishaps with it in a car, and I’d hate for it to happen on a motorcycle. For those who haven’t experienced it, the damp pavement, looks wet, but as the temperature changes it turns into a sheet of ice that really isn’t visible by the eye. Very important to watch for when temperatures are just above the freezing level. Nothing worse than hitting your breaks and the bike just keeps sliding along like you’re not breaking at all.

This is also the reason I take my corners much differently then when I’m riding in the summer months. Flying around a corner during the winter months and hitting some ice is a sure way to land on your ass! I always take corners slow during the winter months. Even if the streets are dry, a rogue ice patch could ruin your day.

Taking off from any dead stop is also important. As motorcycle riders, we tend to take off from stop signs and red lights a little quicker than our car driving counterparts. During the winter months, slower starts are much safer. When I first started riding on the street during my high school years, I was riding two up on my Honda CB400. I had my girlfriend on the back, and we were going camping. I pulled up at a toll booth, paid my toll, gave it the normal amount of gas and as I took off the back end of the bike slid out from under the both of us and we both landed on our asses. A car had been leaking oil and left a nice puddle at the toll both, and I tried to take off on an oil slick. Ice will do the exact same thing! Slow starts are strongly advised.

I often learn things the hard way. The image at the top of this post was from the first decent snow we had this year. I did a couple snow donuts in the driveway, then ripped down the driveway feathering the throttle kicking up a rooster tail of snow. Luckily about halfway down the driveway, I slowed down, and when I put on the brake the bike just kept sliding down the driveway! I live on a fairly busy street and to my horror there were cars coming in both directions. I ended up stopping just at the mouth of the driveway as a car passed. A little more gas and this would of been disastrous. Always gauge your stopping distance based on current riding conditions. I ride a dual sport in the winter and my knobby tires work pretty well in the snow. I always assume that I’m going to slide though and start applying my breaks much earlier than I normally would during the summer months.

Another important factor is adjusting speed. I hate to admit it, but in the summer I rarely keep the speed limit. In the winter I’m the exact opposite. Most times I’m going a few miles under the speed limit. If the streets are covered in snow and ice I may even put on my hazards and ride slowly along the side of the road. Adjusting speed to your riding conditions can be very important.

Tailgating a car on a motorcycle is always a bad idea. This is especially bad during the winter months. So many factors can go wrong in colder weather. Black ice, regular ice, a dry road with an icy puddle. DO NOT TAILGATE IN THE WINTER! Unless you enjoy eating taillights this is a very bad idea!

With that said, I always look for close drivers behind me and take that into consideration as I stop. So many times I’ve had my bumper tapped by the car behind me while stopped at a red light in the winter. Having this happen on a motorcycle could cause serious injury. If the driver behind you is close, slow down considerably ahead of your stop. Try not to stop abruptly, and if you can, pull into another lane and just let the tailgating driver pass as you give him the middle finger 🙂 I know, be nice. I really do have a low tolerance for inconsiderate cagers though.

Honestly, during the winter months I’m more concerned with how the other people around me are driving. I don’t trust other drivers! For the most part I try not to ride when weather conditions on the rode get serious, however a lot can change from the time you leave for work in the morning, and leave to go home at night. A beautiful morning, could turn into a winter snowstorm by the afternoon. For this reason I always try to have alternative routes planned. Sometimes I just feel safer taking side streets or back roads. If the roads are accessible, and there’s less traffic, that can be a safer alternative than a busy street at rush hour during extreme weather conditions.

I broke this post into two parts, riding gear, and safe winter riding. I think clothing choices also play an important roll in safe winter motorcycle riding though. For instance, you don’t want to be in a situation where you’re gloves aren’t appropriately insulated and your hands are so cold you can’t feel them or properly work your clutch, break and throttle. Hypothermia can affect reaction time. Tight, restrictive clothing can affect mobility and how you control the bike. A commonsense approach to riding gear is important through the winter months. Warm clothes that don’t restrict mobility will allow you better control of your motorcycle, and help with fatigue and other issues that can be caused by hypothermia.

On a final note,I’m not a huge fan of helmet laws. I think it’s a freedom issue and riders should be able to choose whether or not they want to wear one. Although I may occasionally go sans helmet during the warmer months, off road and during the winter I’d never think of it. To much can go wrong. A good, comfortable helmet will not only protect your head from the cold weather, but also save you from cracking open your skull if and when you slip on some ice. Just like off road riding, chances are you’ll have the occasional mishap. You probably want a decent helmet to protect you.

Well, that’s all I have for this post. If you have any safe riding tips for me that I haven’t covered or didn’t think of I’d love to read them in the comments section. Who knows, that comment may save my life or some other riders life who reads this. Then again, I’m not sure anybody reads this blog! If you did happen to stumble upon this blog and read this far, thanks for reading and safe travels!

If you missed part 1 of this post you can find it here:
http://themotorcycledude.com/winter-motorcycle-riding-part-1-choosing-gear

The-Dude

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