Digging deep in the digital bag of motorcycle bits, I found this bit of early work for Midwest Motorcyclist, printed September 2007. It was written at a time I was attempting to use the bike as an economical, year-round alternative to the car as much as possible in the largely unpredictable NEOhio weather. A bit “rough”, in my (not very) humble opinion, but still relevant. I’ve continued to ride all year, but I seem to have grown older and wiser (wimpier?) about cold and wet winter riding. The bikes stay parked far more often than I might like, though on the road enough I’m still considered loony by non-riding (and some riding) family and friends!
Reading this, all the way back to some of my earliest AutoX work from the 80s, I’d like to think my writing (and riding/driving) have improved through the years. I need to thank Ray Peabody and all the Editors who’ve given me column space for so many years- and I especially need to thank readers who have stuck with me!
Holiday weekend coming up, lots of travelers on our roads and highways- lets watch out for each other, and make it a safe one for all
ps: Photo credit for this post goes to my son, Sean Mekinda
Work sucks, Enjoy the Ride!
For NE Ohio, it was a HOT afternoon- nearly 95 degrees as I was getting my gear ready for my daily ride to work. The tricky part today was the forecast for a slight chance of thunderstorms, and my last glance at radar showed “green”, indicating rain, popping all around my route. A few months ago I left for work on a warm day with a 10% chance of showers, sunny skies and nothing on radar. I was wearing my armored mesh jacket, with the waterproof liner zipped tightly in my tank bag. Fifteen minutes after leaving and about five miles from my office, I hit a cloudburst that soaked me to the skin, and I spent my night in cold, damp clothes in an air-conditioned office. Not a pleasant experience, and one I was in no hurry to repeat. It’s soooo hot today, though, so I can’t bring myself to pull out the raingear…
This is a typical dilemma for anyone who commutes by motorbike on a regular basis in the Northern climes. Our weather is much more diverse than the week after week of warm and sunny found in the southern states and West coast. We need to be much more adaptable to “best guess” weather forecasting, wild temperature extremes and unexpected precipitation. Being on a bike puts us directly at the mercy of the weather: no roll-up windows, heat or A/C to make life cozy. Typical rush hour travel means dressing for cool temps in the morning, but being prepared for warm (or hot) on the way home. This means packing for the ride as much as for the office. In my case, being 2nd-shift, my ride in is usually pleasant but the ride home can be quite cold. This means making space to pack my things for work, my lunch, and enough extra gear for the ride, including second-guessing the weather. Is it worth it? Well, let me qualify this by admitting most of my friends and family believe I’m a bit mad because I ride nearly year ‘round. I stop only for snow and sub-freezing temperatures, as I no longer find scraping frost from my seat a pleasant experience- assuming I ever really did! The payoff is a consistent 55-mpg from my Buell, the sense of doing good for the planet by conserving fuel and reducing emissions, and a constant grin inside my helmet from being on my bike. Worth it? Absolutely!
So now I’ve got you thinking, “Hey, that might be fun! But I don’t have the right bike/ gear to commute to work…” Nonsense. As long as you’re not stuck carrying a bunch of specialized equipment or tools with you, or traveling particularly long distances, just about anything will do. I spend about 30 minutes riding each way, so I do try to make sure I’m reasonably comfortable. I ride a Buell XB12R Firebolt that I’ve modified slightly with Helibars and lower Lightning pegs. It’s still sportbike compact, but a bit more humane for my aging wrists and back. A cruiser or a standard would be even better, but ride what you like and make it work for you. The idea is to enjoy the ride! Now you need to figure out the best way to pack for the ride…
There are plenty of options to get all your “shtuff” across town. Just be careful to watch the weight of your load, and keep it balanced and well attached to the bike. I personally use a large Nelson-Rigg strap-on tankbag (no metal tank on the Buell) for the warmer months. I don’t need to transport much more than lunch, some light layers/ liner for the ride home and, occasionally, raingear. As the seasons change, I add a soft tailbag to carry my bulkier cold-weather layers. If you need to carry more, such as a laptop or paperwork, there are some great backpacks designed to be comfortable in a cycling position. There are even a few nearly bulletproof hardshell backpacks designed to keep laptops safe in nearly any conditions. Of course, if you’re fortunate enough to be riding a full-on Harley, Goldwing or BMW touring rig, you’ve already got more capacity than the rest of us could even imagine- so this is all irrelevant to you. By the way, when using soft bags or a backpack, be certain it’s waterproof or you have the “rain bonnet” with you. As I’ve had the misfortune to find out first hand, it’s amazing just how wet everything can get in a surprise downpour!
Now you’ve that you’ve packed for your cross-town expedition, what about riding gear for your body? I’m a firm believer in a bit of protection when I ride. My car has bumpers, but on the bike I’m the bumper- a sobering thought in urban traffic. I like a full-face helmet with good venting to keep me cool in the summer, warm in the cold, dry in the rain and bug free on the summer nights when the Canadian Soldiers swarm. I have both textile and leather jackets, all at least lightly armored, but my preference is the textile. I like the lighter weight and flexibility of the textiles. My favorite right now is my Tourmaster Flex, which goes from a free-flow armored mesh to a waterproof dual-liner cold weather jacket through the creative use of what seems like miles of zippers. The best part is, one jacket pretty much covers the extremes of my rides to and from work in nearly any weather. Gloves are always a good idea, and a pair can be found to work well in virtually any weather. The important points with gloves are that they are tough enough to hold together, tight enough to stay on your hands in case of a crash and flexible enough to safely manipulate the controls. There are several pairs in my garage ranging from light vented gloves to insulated waterproof gauntlets to offset the current conditions. I have a set of touring pants, but I confess that I use them mostly for added warmth in the coldest weather. Usually, I’m just in jeans: probably not the best choice should I happen to bodily meet the road, but certainly better than nothing. I always wear leather boots that cover my ankles, but they’re usually waterproof workboots, not motorcycle-specific boots. I keep a one-piece rainsuit in my bag, “just in case”. I have no preference over one vs. two-piece rainsuits, but there are compelling arguments for both styles. I have heard that one-piece suits seem to have fewer places for water to seep over or around, while two-piece tend to be much easier to put on quickly. Two-piece give the option of wearing just the jacket or just the pants when the situation calls for it. Either tend to be uncomfortable in hot weather, but can be a great wind blocker in cold weather.
Other bits of clothing to consider when the weather turns really cold are balaclavas that fit under a helmet, and electrically heated riding gear. For the bike, there are also many types of heated grips available, as well as windscreens to provide greater protection from the elements. When riding, keeping your body in its temperature “zone” is very important. Too hot or too cold can lead to slowed reactions, poor decisions or just plain inattentiveness. Obviously, any of these are detrimental on a motorcycle, but the most basic thing is this: if you’re not warm enough or you’re too hot, you’re not going to enjoy the ride- and that’s still what this is all about!
No matter your level of preparedness, the one thing about daily commuting you can do little to control is traffic. Cagers on cell phones, elderly drivers, newbie drivers, mergers, left-lane bandits, and more. We’ve all heard the horror stories for bikers, and many of us have probably experienced a pucker inducing moment or two. Oddly enough though, my experience over the last few years has been much more positive. Perhaps it has something to do with the expanding segment of bikers nationwide, but it seems the drivers in my ‘hood are more aware and conscientious toward bikes. Then again, it could just be luck on my part: The son of a friend was killed last summer when a driver crossed left of center on a curve. Regardless of the road manners of others, we as riders can never let our guards down, whether riding for fun, travel or the daily commute. Way too much can go wrong in just a fraction of a second of inattention. Riding a motorcycle is one of the most fun and exciting things a person can do, but we can’t depend on anyone else to be watching out for us on the roads. Ride smart, ride safe, be aware. Our safety is almost entirely in our own hands.
Hopefully this has given you a bit of info to work with, and a bunch of motivation to hop on the bike next time you’re off to work. As for the ride I opened with? I took the bike, put the rain cover on my tank bag and zipped my waterproof liner into the mesh jacket… It wasn’t full raingear, but I figured it would cover me in all but the most substantial downpour. I was ready for the rain… that never happened. The sun came out, and I rode to work zipped into a sauna. Man, it was hot! Thing is, I was still grinning a fool’s grin all the way to work!
Be seen, ride smart, stay safe and I’ll see you on the road!
Properly Geared for Summer Commuting. Photo by Sean Mekinda