Thursday, January 8, 2015

A Winter Ride

Many riders put their bikes away for the cold months. That’s understandable. Motorcycles don’t do well at all in the ice and snow and riders are subjected to 45-65 mph wind chill which makes even a relatively pleasant winter day a cold, cold adventure on a motorcycle.

This winter hiatus is just one of several reasons that many used motorcycles have quite low mileage compared to their four-wheeled counterparts. I’m always looking for vintage bikes, those that are twenty or thirty or even forty years old. Even though low mileage … sometimes crazy low like a forty year old bike with less than 10,000 miles … the age alone takes quite a toll. My most recent purchase was a 1970 model Honda that had just over 1,000 miles. Can you imagine that? Barely broken in.

Many people garage their bikes for the colder months, saving riding for Spring or even Summer. My brother, who is a very serious rider, only takes his Harley for road trips. He doesn’t ride around town or commute to work on his bike at all. In the last 15 years,he’s put over 30,000 miles on three different big hogs, but when he’s not on a vacation, the bike stays in the garage.

Out of necessity and caution, as well as just learning the hard way, most riders have figured out how to winterize our bikes for a long period of storage. Some riders are very thorough, changing the oil, washing the bike, and taking a lot of precautions before putting the bike away including sealing up the mufflers with plastic and rubber bands to keep out moisture and rust and even to discourage tiny critters from finding a home.

Since I have several bikes, these winter prep chores are quite familiar to me. I think a bike (or a car for that matter) should be run at least once a month. This means getting it out on the road and up to full operating temperature to burn out all the moisture and get the battery a full charge. Thirty minutes, an hour, that’s what it takes. Not just idling the engine in the garage. I have four cars and trucks, so even when I’m home, keeping them regularly run is a task.

When I was home in November, I took all the bikes out for a good ride. Colorado has plenty of good riding days, even in the winter. I do keep all the bikes and the unused cars on battery minders, those smart chargers designed to over-winter your lead-acid battery. Some advise removing the battery and putting it on a charger, but this new generation of small battery minders do such a good job that many dealerships put the connection on all new bikes sold. I even put a small minder on my wife’s Camry just to keep everything copacetic. It just takes a trickle charge to keep the batteries up to snuff.

Since the Miata has a battery in the trunk, and opening the trunk turns on a light, it is a bit of a problem in the winter. Some battery minders come with cigarette lighter plugins so you can charge the battery through that port. However, the Miata turns the cigarette lighter plug off when the ignition is off, so that doesn’t work. I have yet to solve that conundrum. As a result, I’ve had to replace the Miata battery a couple of times. I suppose I should just take it out of the car in the winter, but I didn’t this year (like last). I had better just go home and drive it. I keep in in my son’s garage under a car cover. I’m NOT going to ask him to drive it. Nope, wasn’t born yesterday. I’ll just keep shelling out for new batteries. He drives the truck to keep it charged, and I’ve got the Blue Bus here with me.

But back to winterizing your bikes. I recommend filling the gas tank up before storage. It is the dead air space in the tank that encourages gas tank rust, a common problem on old, even little ridden bikes. You can add a gas stabilizer too just to be on the safe side. I use STA-BIL® on my bikes and even my lawn mower over the winter.

For motorcycles with carburetors, you don’t want evaporated junk in the carb and particularly in the float area. I shut off the fuel at the tank and run the engine dry. Some recommend removing the spark plugs and adding oil to the top end. The procedure is somewhat complicated, and I’ve never bothered with that step. Still it is a very good idea. Several methods are suggested. A half ounce through the spark plug hole and then turn over the engine a few times to spread it down to the rings. Easy to do with a bike, especially if it has a kick starter. But be sure and put the spark plug back in. Don’t leave the top end open to the elements … and get out the torque wrench. Specifications are there for a reason, and the hard steel spark plug in the soft aluminum head is something that requires extra care when performing motorcycle maintenance.

Meanwhile, here in Oregon, the rain every-single-day during the winter sort of reduces the riding of all but the most extreme with good rain gear. I only slightly exaggerate. We had two weeks of light rain every … single … day. It can drive a sunshine loving guy like myself slowly mad!

Last week we had a few days of brilliant sunshine, but the temperatures never were above 38°. I went for some short hops around town to test out my cold weather gear and preparation. I have a very good riding jacket. It is actually a summer jacket design called a “mesh” jacket with armor on the elbows, shoulders, and back. It has a rain proof (resistant if not “proof”) insert that serves double duty blocking the wind. I add a couple of layers of sweaters or sweat shirts and I have a very warm winter coat. It is black with lots of Day-Glo yellow panels. You want to be seen, summer or winter, but especially in the early darkness of the shortest days.

My brother gave me an old pair of “gauntlet” gloves that he didn’t like … and with his full fairing, didn’t need as much as me anyway. Did I mention that none of my bikes have any fairing or windshield? I know, dumb is as dumb does. Unfortunately, this bike has no bags either. Not really a touring motorcycle as it is set up. I have several pairs of gloves here, but the full gauntlet seemed a great idea to keep the cold out of the cuffs and blowing up the sleeves, even though the jacket had the usual velcro wrist bands. Cold has a way of slipping inside of your clothes.

I have heavy boots and a variety of helmets from half to three-quarters to full. My favorite, summer or winter, is a good old 3/4 helmet, and I add a face shield for winter. Covers the ears, muffles the noise, and works well with a complete face shield. Not quite as claustrophobic as a full helmet, and — I think a little less prone to fogging. My trial runs last week quickly proved the weak point in my winter armer wasn’t the elbows, but the neck. I froze my chin and neck in short order. I found myself riding with my left hand around my throat, as if to throttle myself for being so foolish.

A quick trip to, and I had a good winter sports neck scarf. It closed in the back with a velcro and could go all the way up to the nose. I roll it down a bit because I found that the full "bank robber" look also sent my breath upwards increasing the fog effect.

I also needed some navigational help on the country roads around here, so I purchased a weather proof case for my GPS and added that to the bike. I ran power up under the tank to the handlebars to plug in the GPS and mounted it. Unfortunately, as I said earlier, this bike has no bags, so I chose a few essentials for the trip, including a nice tool kit in case it was needed. My tool kit has the essential metric tools, and also some odds and ends like some wire and plastic cable ties. Just the things you need when stranded on the side of the road.

I wrapped the tools and other things in a large towel that I attached to the rear seat with a couple of bungee cords. One thing that engineers always do a lot of, is preparation. I thought I had everything ready and prepared for a successful winter trip. All contingencies had been planned for, and mitigation plans were in place if needed.

Considering myself now ready for a road trip, I planed a ride down to Salem, a 120 mile, round-trip jaunt, and a visit with an old Navy buddy that lives there. The weatherman promised temperatures in the 50s for the midweek, and I made arrangements with my friend for a visit and lunch. Tuesday dawned with a great fog, and I hoped that the planned Wednesday would be sunny. Unfortunately, the weather man didn’t keep his promise and the temperature was only 40° when I left home at 10:30. Yet the weather was clear here in the Portland area. However, around here, micro weather can change in just a dozen miles.

First a little Oregon geography lesson. I-5 runs north and south in Oregon, starting at the Washington state line across the river from Portland, it runs down south to California about 60 or so miles east of the Pacific Ocean the whole way. This keeps it on this side of the coastal range. Hillsboro is about 20 miles west of Portland and Salem is south about 50 miles and on I-5.

Motorcycles and freeways aren’t a good combination. The speeds are too high, there are too many cars, and there are no bends in the road to require a little leaning. Very boring. Avoid when possible. So riders like myself prefer the “back roads.” Those are the little country lanes and state highways that, although slower, are much more pleasant for a ride. Twisty and curvy adds fun to the adventure and keeps the mind clear.

So I started out planning to ride down to McMinnville and then head east to Salem. I took a very “back” road from my dad’s over to Cornelius where I stopped to fill the tank and put some air in the back tire. Expecting warmer weather, I had put the neck scarf in the towel wrap. Realizing my error, I quickly removed that during my stop and bundled up with a hot cup of coffee for good measure. Unrolling the towel to get the neck scarf and then re-doing it on my seat was a lot harder than when I had prepared the bundle on the bed. So it was’t as neatly rolled, but still adequate for a ride behind me. I did find myself feeling back there periodically to make sure it was still there.

The ride was quite cold. I appreciated slowing down when I went through the little towns as that gave me some respite from the wind chill. My legs, cased only in Levi blue jeans were cold. (Note to self, add long johns or rain pants to winter riding gear.) As I approached schools, the speed limit was often 20 even if no kids were in evidence. That was OK with me! Once, in Salem, I rode past a school with flashing speed limit signs and there was a motorcycle cop sitting on the corner ready to hand out tickets. I waved as we were brother bikers. He just scowled. Maybe he was cold too.

On some of the long stretches at 55 - 60, the ends of my fingers got cold. My main body was fine. Feet stayed warm; arms and body quite comfortable; ears out of the wind. I had pulled the neck scarf down a bit to clear the helmet of my hot breath, and my chin and cheeks were a bit cold, but not painful.

As I started out from Cornelius, southwest on state route 47, I rode some nicely twisty roads through the valleys south of Gaston. As I entered more open country, before the little town of Yamhill, there were low lying clouds covering the slight hills off to the left. Wished I had one of those “GO-PRO” cameras on my helmet to permanently grab the scene. By the time I got to Carlton, those clouds had descended down to ground level, and I was riding through a moderately dense fog.

Winter riding is always a bit bothered by your face shield fogging if you are not careful to breath out through your nose. The 100% relative humidity in the fog increased the fogging considerably. Then the dense fog started to condense on the outside of the shield. Visibility became severely limited. This is a big problem for a rider because excellent visibility is one key asset of motorcycle safety.

When I finally got to 99W, just east of McMinnville, I could barely see to cross onto the busy divided highway from the stop sign. The neck scarf limited my head swiveling, and I could only see out of a small section of the face shield. I had pulled over twice to clean the shield inside and out, but it quickly fogged over again. Using more of my sense of hearing than sight, I entered onto the four-lane, median separated 99W and got back up to speed.

Turning onto 221, I headed south, but I was still on the wrong side of the Willamette River. The fog had cleared up a bit and visibility had returned. There were several bridges to chose from for a crossing, and I thought I would cross at Salem. At one point the GPS directed me down a little country road to the Wheatland Ferry.

This is a cable ferry that connects Marion County and Yamhill County across the Willamette. The ferry travels approximately 600 feet across the river, depending on the height of the water, and is powered by two electric motors connected to an on-board diesel generator. The ferry is supported by two steel cables, one under water on the downriver side, and one overhead on the upriver side. The ferry also uses the overhead cable for steering.

The tiny boat was just loading as I arrived, and I paid $1 for the ride. Continuing on south, I arrived at my friends home just after noon where I enjoyed a clam chowder lunch with homemade rolls and fresh fruit and great conversation with my old buddy Mac and his wife No’el.

He rides too, but currently he is bike-less. He had a Victory V-twin (and a Corvette) but both have been sold to purchase a small motorhome. Dan said the motorhome hasn’t worked out so well, and he’s back in the market for another fun ride.

He’s looked at the new Polaris (maker of the Victory and the Indian line of bikes) “Sling Shot." It is quite an interesting vehicle, three wheels, side-by-side seating, a steering wheel, and engineered lean in the corners — really just a three wheeled car. I said as much and he replied that maybe he’d just get another Corvette. His wife likes the Can-Am and we talked about Gold Wing and Harley trikes. Good choices once you no longer feel comfortable on a two wheel conveyance. Dan didn't like the geometry of a trike in a tight turn and explained to me how the two-wheels in front designs handle curves better. It is obvious he has done a lot of research on this subject.

I rode a Harley Servi-Car three-wheel trike and also a BMW with a sidecar while I was stationed in Norfolk, so I understood some of what he was referring to.

I didn’t want to stay too late because of the impending darkness, so after a short visit, I was back on the road again around 3 PM. This time I took the “River Road,” a main street in Salem and the suburb Keizer that becomes a nice country road up to Newberg and 219. North out of Newberg, on 219, is a wonderful, twisty mountain road over “Old Baldy.” Many of the hairpin curves on the climb up have a maximum speed of 20 mph, even though the highway speed limit is a double-nickel.

Those could be fun. However, the road had been extensively repaired. There were new strips of asphalt in the two “tire tracks” of the road, although the center of the lane was untouched. These repairs left slight bumps that act as edge traps to a narrow motorcycle tire. There was a “rough road” warning sign that showed a motorcycle. The message was clear. Bad news for two wheelers.

But I was committed to this path and didn’t want to take the long way around. As I climbed the clouds and fog completely surrounded me and soon I couldn’t see more than 30 feet. My bike was hopping and jumping as I was all over the lane and the road was wet from the fog. My bike kept falling into and out of the ruts and I was lucky to just keep it between the lines, never mind choosing the surface best to ride on.

I took most of the 20 mph turns at even slower speed, much to the chagrin of the cars behind me. At least they weren’t tailgating me. Visibility was so poor I couldn’t even find a pull off. I didn’t have enough lead time to pull over when I did spot a shoulder wide enough to permit it. I made it to the top and then pulled onto a shoulder turn-off and the two cars behind me sped on. It was only a ten or twelve minute ride up the mountain, but they were very nerve wracking minutes. I stopped and cleaned my face shield and started down the mountain.

The good news is that, on the far side, it was sunny and warm and the fog completely disappeared. I nearly caught up with those two cars as the road was still a bit twisty, but nowhere as tight as the south side of the mountain. With good visibility I could pick my lines through the curves and my speed increased with my vision and confidence.

As I hit the long straight away on the valley floor, the air temperature jumped ten or twenty degrees and my helmet fogging was no longer an issue. I warmed up considerably, and finished the ride just before dark. Following 219 into Hillsboro takes me right to the turn-off to my dad’s neighborhood. Soon I was inside, shedding layers of clothing and telling dad and my wife about the trip. I left out some of the dangerous parts. Since I had survived, no reason to scare them.

My various preparations for a long winter ride had served me well, but I don’t know what to do to prevent the bad shield fogging that occurred. My shield is treated with an anti fog, but I didn’t have any additional spray with me. I also lacked more than my pocket handkerchief to clean the plastic. That worked, but I am adding a good microfiber cloth to my pack.

I think the two times that my vision was limited, especially over Bald Mountain, were quite hazardous, and I was not comfortable during those times. My safety is a concern, and I couldn’t even see the roadway in front of me to chose my line through curves up on the mountain. I was focused entirely on the road ahead and the sharp turns. One misstep could have been my last. I don’t enjoy that, but caution saved the day. It wasn't all that dangerous since my speed was never much more than 25 mph, so I could stop or even handle going off the road. As long as no car hit me, I was relatively safe.

On the trip down to Salem via McMinnville, even in a dense fog, it was a straight road mostly when visibility was impaired. So that wasn’t as terrifying. I could even clean my shield while riding using my left hand and hanky. Still, I’m not comfortable when I can’t keep a good eye on all around me from the road ahead to the cars behind and the side road traffic too.

Despite the very uncomfortable trip over the mountains and the earlier part of the ride where fogging was a buzz kill, most of the ride was quite enjoyable. It wasn’t hard to ignore the few parts of my body that were chilled and the scenery, as usual, made it worth the trip. At one point I approached a flat field on a straight stretch of roadway when, suddenly, a black cloud launched off the field to the right and filled the highway ahead. It took me a moment to realize it was a large flock of some black birds … not necessarily “Black Birds” but some bird with dark feathers. I guess there were upwards of 300 to 500 and my motor sounds must have startled them into flight. Magnificent! Made my heart quicken.

Oregon is very green, even in the winter. After all, the local McDonalds has several palm trees out front. They’re wrapped in plastic for the winter since this isn’t exactly the banana belt, but you don’t see those reminders of tropical climes in Colorado. As I rode through the verdant countryside of rolling hills, mature trees, and hedges of green, I thought how beautiful nature can be. Various bodies of water from lakes to rivers and even a water filled ditch reminded me of the contrast with the dry climate of Colorado. It is easy to understand how our pioneer forebears were willing to make the struggle across the continent in covered wagons to reach these green pastures and rich volcanic farm lands.

My struggles with the chilling cold and fog seemed tame compared to what they went through. I do it for fun. They did it for real. This paradise at the end of their journey was definitely worth it. That part of the trip, as usual, was good for body and soul.

As I rode past farms and villages, I appreciated the rural setting and the bountiful harvest it represented. Fields strung with post and wire to support grapes or beans. A host of wineries where the black volcanic earth has been turned into a nectar truly fit for the gods. Yes, this is God’s country and, even when little uncomfortable due to temperatures, I was filled with awe at the natural beauty. Along the way were empty fields with tractors and plows taking advantage of the respite from rain, and big trucks filled with harvest. An inspiring ride. Sure a warm summer’s day would have been better, but I did pass a couple of other bikes (and one bicycle rider), proving I wasn’t the only maniacidiot … enthusiast out on the road.

I’m ready for another winter ride, if you can call temps in the 40s and no snow, “winter.” But I need to find a solution to the face shield fogging. Any ideas?

I have looked at expensive helmets that have special visors called Pinlock anti-fog visors. These European inventions add a second layer to the plastic, sort of like a dual-pain storm window. According to the sales literature, "Pinlock® lenses are created out of a moisture absorbing plastic. The silicone seal on the lens creates an airtight pocket between the shield and lens. The lens is placed between two adjustable eccentric pins, making it easy to install or switch lenses as weather conditions change." They are supposed to be fog free. Maybe I'll give that a try.

If anyone has experience with the Pinlock system or other ideas to prevent fogging when the temperature drops below 40°, I'd love to hear from you. Just add your comments in the space below.

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