Northwesterners have a pragmatic approach to the outdoors that goes something like this: There's no such thing as bad weather, just bad gear. It's an attitude that allows us to enjoy our favorite pastimes no matter what the conditions.
There's one activity, however, where that mantra doesn't apply -- because there's far more at stake than soggy boots or an uncomfortable night's sleep. When it comes to riding a motorcycle in inclement weather, the right equipment is critical, but good judgment and safe riding skills are just as important.
Here are a few tips for fall and winter riding from Dave Wendell, who has been teaching motorcycle safety classes for 22 years. Since 2005 he has been the president and founder of Pacific Northwest Motorcycle Safety Inc., which offers year-round instruction for motorcycles and scooters.
Never ride on snow or ice. "If the forecast calls for snow or subfreezing temperatures, don't ride a two-wheeled motorcycle," Wendell says. "Snow and ice are particularly dangerous for two-wheeled motorcycles and need to be avoided at all costs."
Sit out the first 30 minutes of a shower. "Wet roads can be more hazardous, especially within the first 30 minutes after the rain begins if it hasn't rained in several days," says Wendell. "Excess dirt and debris are still washing off the roadway. If the rain begins while you're riding, find a safe place to pull off the road and wait out the first half-hour. Give the dirt and slippery stuff a chance to wash off the road."
Avoid wet leaves on the road. "In the fall, pay attention to the color and texture of the pavement ahead of you," says Wendell "If there are leaves on the pavement in your path of travel, and there's any possibility that they might be wet, try to avoid them or slow down far beyond normal. Wet leaves on the road surface can be extremely slippery."
Watch out for wet patches of pavement. "Dark spots in the road ahead could very well indicate wetness, which won't give you as much traction as dry pavement," says Wendell. "If you do come across a slippery portion of the road that can't be avoided, straighten up the bike, squeeze the clutch and stay off the brakes; coast through the slippery spot without any driving force on the rear wheel."
Outfit your bike with heated gear. "Cold is probably one of the most dangerous conditions because it can lead to hypothermia if the rider isn't careful, and the real danger is that the effects can be difficult to recognize," says Wendell. "Heated riding gear is a must for cold-weather riding. Heated hand grips and heated seats are available on many motorcycles; [this] can help keep riders comfortable and able to think about what's going on around them instead of how cold they are."
Dress for visibility. "Bright-colored outer clothing is a good choice, and retro-reflective material on jackets and/or vests worn over a jacket are an even better choice," says Wendell. "They reflect light back toward the source. This will make you more visible to others and may come in very handy if the bike breaks down and you have to walk along the side of the road to get help."