I love autumn. I love it in general but I really love it when it comes to riding. The beautiful scenery, cooler weather, less minivans going nowhere while talking on their cell-phones – all these things plus a few good Oktoberfests really make the fall my favorite time of year to ride.
Unfortunately there seem to be fewer riders out there too. A lot of folks I know look at this as the time of year to start putting their bikes away and I’m kind of dismayed by that. Living in Erie, where the winter just crushes us for three or four months, I try to get every minute possible out of riding season. Actually I try to ride at least one day per month even in the dead of winter but that is sometimes tricky.
Anyway I’ve been thinking about why some people put away their rides just when it starts getting fun and I’m guessing it has a little bit to do with safety. Sure, that guy on the Fat Boy dripping in chrome and LED’s (and maybe a little leather fringe too) probably isn’t taking a chance once the weather starts getting rough, but he could with just a little bit of a change in plans.
First things first is gear. I don’t care what you ride. If you’re not prepared for the weather, you aren’t going to have a fun time. In fact you could have a downright dangerous time. If you’ve taken an Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) course (if you haven’t click here and TAKE ONE http://www.pamsp.com/), you already know how important matching your clothing to your ride is, but just in case here’s a primer:
1. Be prepared for changing conditions. In the summer it’s a little easier to predict the weather. In the fall, as you know, it can start off warm and bright and finish up a wet, chilly night. Layers will help you here, along with a good vented jacket that you can seal up if things get too cold. If you have bags all the better, then it’s cake to have a set of thermals as back-up. Footwear and gloves are important too. Not only do you need your extremities warm enough to give you feel on the grips and a solid stance when you are stopped, but having a good pair of slip-resistant boots can help prevent falling at a leaf covered intersection — and having to find one of those minivan drivers help you pick the bike up.
2. Many riders don’t typically wear helmets, but in the fall a helmet can provide warmth in addition to security. A brightly-colored lid can help you be spotted more easily if it’s gets a little drab out. Bring something for your neck too. Any cold weather on your neck can feel like a sliver of ice if the rest of you is nice and toasty.
3. You’ve hopefully put on quite a few miles in the summer, so take a moment and make sure your bike is in tip-top shape. MSF has an acronym – T-CLOCS – that stands for:
- T – Tires, Wheels, and Brakes
- C – Controls
- L – Lights and Electrics
- O – Oil and Other Fluids
- C – Chassis
- S – Stands
Go through your owner’s manual and check into each one of these separate pieces and make sure it is in the same shape it was when the season started. If you want more detail, you can check out the MSF’s website and download the PDF of the entire Basic Rider Course manual http://www.msf-usa.org/CurriculumMaterials/BRCHandbook2009.pdf.
4. Buddy up. I love riding solo – but in the fall, riding with a friend or two can make your experience all the more interesting as well as increase your level of safety. An investment in helmet-to-helmet communicators (which we will be reviewing shortly), can add to the experience as long as it does not become distraction. In addition, having a friend can result in longer rest stops (to talk about the ride) and gives you another set of eyes if the weather gets ugly.
5. To sum it up: Make sure that you think about your route, your bike and yourself. If they all check out fine then get out and enjoy the day!