Friday, December 19, 2008

Clarification needed?

I may have touched a nerve with a few folks. When I wrote about riding on snow and ice there were some who seemed offended I would even talk about such a thing. That part's okay. We all have different opinions and comfort levels. What worries me is that someone may get the wrong idea. As a motorcycle safety professional I don't want anyone to think I'm urging them to go out and ride in bad conditions. Particularly in snow and ice.

To that end I'm adding this clarification to put closure to the subject.

In no way, shape, or form am I advocating riding on snow or ice. For that matter, you could include any number of other things that seriously affect traction. The truly wise thing to do is to avoid riding anywhere that traction could be compromised. That being said, there's a couple of other factors that come into play. Those are the things behind the post.

We do not ride in a perfect world. Unless we only ride in certain places and at certain times, there's a chance we're going to encounter things like ice or snow. To those two things you can add oil, antifreeze, fuel spills, moss, wet leaves, and any number of other traction hazards. Even if we start out in favorable conditions, the end of a day can be the polar opposite of the start of a day. Pun wasn't intended but I'm going to let it ride.

Here's a recent example.

This was taken on Sunday. Two hours previously the temperature was in the upper thirties ( f ) with a light rain. Polar air moved down the valley and covered everything with snow. This might be a slightly extreme example, granted. But stuff like this happens as has been pointed out in comments here and other places.

Again, the first rule is to avoid low traction situations. Check out the current conditions and forecast. Even if it's not Winter, scan the roadway to detect possible hazards as early possible. My experience, though, has been that once in a while we're going to find ourselves riding on low traction surfaces. Some things like black ice can be where we least expect it to be. It's also extremely difficult to catch early. Especially in the dark.

Since there's a good chance we're going to be faced with this kind of challenge, why wait until we're in it to prepare? That's why I shared the advice I did. There's not a real safe way to practice ahead of time. You might find yourself in Stacy's situation. I'm going to quote her comment.

Still, it's good to know how to handle hitting a patch of black ice, even if the knowledge is "on paper"!

That's a good start. My hope would be that a rider would hear my words in their head.

"Eyes up! Hold the handlebars steady. Be smooth and gentle."

There's a second factor that creeps into my writings. You have to understand where I'm coming from. Again, I go back to Stacy. Thank you, girl, your words are wiser than you know!

"I just don't have the skills for ice riding. I think I'd need to have more street miles and a lot more dirt miles before I'd even consider taking a ride during freezing temps."

Don't let the unassuming words fool you. Stacy's a good rider in her own right. She has the wisdom to lay a solid foundation where she is before moving on to the next level. Her comment on experience and dirt miles is the lead in to my next point.

I've been riding since I was 8 years old. That's well over four decades. Riders who've spent a lot of time on dirt become more comfortable with low traction situations. Notice I said more comfortable. I'm not saying that they're safer. Street riding takes a whole different set of attitudes and skills. Dirt riding can transfer in both good and bad ways. I've been riding on the street since high school. I've also been a motorcycle safety professional for a long time. I've pursued professional training for longer than I've been an instructor myself.

Combining my dirt riding and street riding with my Warrior attitude puts me where I am now. I'm comfortable riding in situations that most folks aren't. I'm not reckless, though. I ride where a lot of people won't because I have the experience, comfort level, and skills to do so. Notice the mention of skills. Some of these skills can only be developed by thousands upon thousands of miles in the seat and encountering every possible situation. Daily commuting over long distances is one arena that provides oppurtunity to gain experience and skills. Nothing like the nitty gritty of real world riding. I'm aware of the risk. It's a highly person decision. It's also not something I would encourage anyone else to do.

I hope this helps clarify where I was coming from. Ride smart. Stay safe. If anyone gives you a hard time about where you've set your limits, too bad. Personal limits are just that: personal. If you've been riding a long time and decided there's certain things you're not going to do anymore, great. You've nothing to prove to anyone else. If you're newer and still working on expanding limits a little at a time, I'm proud of you. You're wise enough to honestly assess where you are right now and ride accordingly. The one thing I might say that applies to everyone is

"Don't forget to have fun!"

Miles and smiles,



jon said...

Yep - if I wanted to be totally safe I would stay at home in bed.

Happy Holiday Season to Dan and his readers.

Jon (the chicken).

Charlie6 said...

Good Post Dan, one must recognize one's limitations and be aware of the environment when riding.

Still, sometimes you have to accept a bit of risk in order to reap the reward.

In my case, I am willing to take small risks (in my opinion) to reap the rewards of finding great views for photographing my motorcycles against or explore for the sake of exploring.

A short stretch of snow is worth traversing at slow speeds, if once clear, one is on clear roads where I can get the daily riding "fix" that I want. Yep, I'm a addict.

A hard packed dirt road, with some gravel thrown in and perhaps some washboard is sometimes unnerving bu the scenery one comes upon in such remote areas is worth it.

If I want to be totally safe, I'll ride my 560SL, it's designers called it the "panzerwagen". : )

Stacy said...

Now it's my turn to quote Dan, from his post made a few days ago:

"In the interests of honesty, the best plan is to not be riding when ice of any kind is expected."

I'm not sure it gets any more clear than that. Perhaps those who've interpreted Dan's recent posts as advocacy for "risky" riding missed this statement, along with several other similar statements he scattered about the posts.

This reminds me of the first time I ever rode in snow. I was riding the Rebel then and couldn't have had more than 6 months of experience at the time. The day had dawned bright and sunny, with temperatures in the 50s. However, by 4pm it was snowing, and when I left work at 5, it was sticking to the pavement.

Believe me, riding that Rebel to the top of the highest hill in town with nearly an inch of snow on the road was a nerve-wracking experience I won't soon forget! It's a good thing the BRT put some tools in my skill chest: specifically, smooth inputs and riding in the tracks left by cars ahead of me.

That day, I learned that even if you say never, as in I'll never ride in ice or snow, you might find yourself having to unexpectedly.

Bryce said...

Well recall a Sunday breakfast meet many years ago. Was on a solo BMW and my friends were on a Goldwing with a sidecar. This would have been about 1983, my solo
machine was my only transport then.
It was about 08:30 when I left the flat for breakfast. The air was cool, the roads dry. Arrived about nine, breakfast was leisuely, and well inside the resturant. We came out to see thick wet snow, on everything and no roads plowed. This was still puritanical Toronto on a Sunday, so no work crews until after 12 noon.

My feet acted as out riggers for nuch of the trip home. I was very wet,the bike was parked inside. I changed into warm clothes, got a bucket of warm water and went down to make sure all the snow was off the bike. The next morning, Monday the roads were all frozen, I took public transit to work.

A question for Dan; what do you do if you encounter salt or brine on the roads in winter? Wash the bike when you reach home or do nothing?

-Tim said...

Good explanation of your previous posts. Of course we don't want to ride on ice or snow, but sometimes it just happens...Like today, I decided not to ride, we got a foot of snow...the Subaru did it's thing well though.

Arizona Harley Dude said...

My parents told me motorcycles were dangerous when I wanted one at the age of 7. Kept telling me that until I bought one at 17. Dad keeps telling me that today. I don't have a death wish, but I do like that element of danger and the smile it puts into my brain.

That would be the same brain I use to be as safe as I can possibly be. Learning "on paper" puts the thought into my file and now I will think about it often this season, hopefully to recall whenever I might find myself in a location that ice might be present. On a bike you can never have too much save your butt information.

By the way, when was the last time any of us practiced an emergency stop? I'll be doing that today with a passenger to show her what to expect and then talking about how I hope she would react.

irondad said...

Bed? Have you seen all those little wriggly creatures in the mattress? Is there any really safe place? :)

Merry Christmas to you, too!

Dang you. I saw the photos on your blog. Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow. You know I'm going to have to keep up, don't you?

No reward comes without some measure of risk. I'm totally with you there.

You are truly a great friend! Thank you for your quick and solid support!

The story you relate proves my point exactly.

I've done the outrigger thing in freezing rain on a Honda 900. One of those times when I was halfway between when it started. What do you do?

Our road crews never use salt, thank goodness. It's sand and de-icer that smells like vinegar. If there were salt, I'd wash it as soon as I could.

Good choice with a foot of snow!

Balance in all things, huh?

I hope you warn your passenger first? :) Great idea to practice with your pillion partner ahead of time. Saves potential problems later on, for sure.

Take care,


Steve Williams said...

The times I have intentionally ventured out into snow and ice was purely experimental. I wanted to determine my limits and understanding in those conditions and practice some basic techniques -- stopping, turning, and coping with slides. I did this so that if I every found myself out on the road and the weather unexpectedly changed I would not be completely dumbstruck. Since I do ride through the winter cold it is always a possibility.

When I know the weather is going to be bad and fresh snow and ice are predicted I take the bus or other transportation.

I do ride when snow is transitioning to water. There are patches of snow, slush, and ice, but again only when I determine I can manage those risks along with the other vehicles on the road.

I don't feel it is anymore dangerous than riding at high speeds on winding roads, or the more dangerous 1000 miles in 24 hours. That kind of riding seems far, far more risky. But that's just me.

Dan, for what's its worth, I never felt you advocated riding in snow. Some people do but as the old saying goes what works for one person may have disastrous consequences for another...

Steve Williams
Scooter in the Sticks