An Icy End or New Beginning?

This will be the last photo to be taken of our Triumph Tiger... It’s officially a write off. As every machine should be, it was a fantastic tool for its one purpose.  To create (Spawn) experiences (Adventures).

Moments after the slow motion decent into the very cold, slick, old pavement is when I stood it back up for this photo. It was a little after 8 AM and was finishing the last leg of an early morning tour of some lower Vancouver Island favourite routes. Saving one of the best for last, many of you locals should recognize the Munn Rd power lines and gravel pull out. What you may not be used to seeing is the moisture laden over growth and pools of water so crisp and frosty.

Hardly the ideal summer riding experience, many of us riders just adapt for the winter riding season and, it never really has to end. 🙂 It’s pretty sweet when you’ re suited for it and many riders will happily live and accept the odds. Thousands and thousands of kms of cold weather riding, this wasn’t the first. With some close calls building a collection of new skills, you can reduce the risks… but you can’t eliminate them.  

I'll share a few things below that I’ve figured out that might better your chances.  I still haven’t mastered the last one for sure… figuring stuff out usually starts with a mistake, but doesn't always have to.

Please let my mistake be your lesson for the day. 

THE MISTAKE

I’d been riding throughout the morning before the sun was even up. Toasty in my layers, the heated vest reminding me of standing next to a warm fire and the heated grips warming the palms of my summer gloves. Unprepared and pig headed, my hands were slightly numbing from the cold and being a slight distraction. Insisting on the more sensitive control and bar feel of a thin glove, I always prefer them over my padded winter mitts.

Bright Cyclops LED lights and no traffic I navigate anywhere I please, at any pace. Music putting me in a rhythmic mindset where I take one corner into the next and repeat again and again until my imagination puts me into a place where I am the only person on earth, having nothing else disturb me. A peaceful and exciting place to be, where your entire body works at an almost unconscious level with the machine and your life before this moment has no relevance.

Kangaroo, Gillespie, Humpback… dark exploration of some lower island great roads are behind me while I continue the loop back home with one more “great” in mind. Daylight increases and so does traffic, I head for the road I have literally ridden hundreds of times and never seem to get tired of. Winter posing new challenges, hard leaning corners become gentle upright sweepers as I set up each corner accounting for almost every tar strip by memory. Way too slick for overtaking, patience gets you past the annoying bright red lights of the truck ahead.

Respect given is often returned in a community filled with riders. Keeping my distance the chill driver respects my chill riding and pulls aside to let me pass. An appreciative wave is given with an attempt to think beyond myself, always hoping to keep the positive attitudes alive between cars and riders. One inch closer to the dream of a community mindset where more cars pull aside for us all. Little did I realize that my appreciation for that driver would go farther that I would have thought.

I take the next few corners with vigour and like a dog let off a leash, I ran with my new found freedom… without looking. New asphalt abruptly changes to old. A tree lined forest quickly changes to a power line landscape filled with fog and frost everywhere. Moisture frozen to the trees, grass and the cracked, old and shaded section of road. The road changed quickly, and my riding didn’t… Front wheel begins to slide and the slow motion begins. The bars falling away quickly and suddenly I’m sliding without remembering actually hitting the ground. The vivid sound of the bike scraping along the glistening surface like it was the only sound in the universe for the brief moment,  then coming to a silent stop a short distance away. Shit.

With the skin torn on my Revit riding suit, my left side impact protection was now visible on my forearm but did its job as it was supposed to. I am, just fine. With another wave I greet the man in the truck, now puling up just behind me.  “Well… that sucked” I said with a grin. The polite man nodded and offered a hand righting the bike. By far the first time I’ve seen that bike taking a nap on the side of a road or trail, but I did accept the help. Minor scrapes and bruises added to the collection, or so I thought. The bike stood ready to continue and so was I. 

A couple weeks later after a careful inspection at the Island Motorcycle Company, I was told the tiger had to be put down. Bent frame thanks to a design flaw of a welded passenger peg mount and a chipped engine casing from sending the lower crash bars hard into it. RIP

You always have a choice to guide your future but you can never completely control it. Living in fear is not an option. Shit just happens, but some knowledge can make it less often.  Where you go from there will always come down to how you want to see it. Reality can be subjective. There’s gotta be a bright side in there somewhere…

Here is a few thing I hope may help you guys.

STAY COMFORTABLE 

Safe riding gear is obvious, but if you’re not comfortable you’ll be distracted. It’s hard to stay focused on the riding if your fingers are numb or feels like someone hit all of them with a hammer and your chin feels like a foreign ice block attached to your face. If you’re shivering, get home or take a break some place warm ASAP. Grab a coffee and search the internet for warm layers and heated equipment. I’ve never used an elaborate set up, and there is some good basics that are a “must have” and do the job.

HAVE THE RIGHT BIKE 

Weight distribution, and ABS. Upright riding gives you better balance and responsiveness. Slung on to the bars on a bike that feels wrong to go slow and built for heavily loading the front tire for leaning and braking performance isn’t great for road conditions too slick to lean. On the other side, sitting over the rear, legs slung forward and arms up gives you little ability recenter you balance in a small slip and leaves that front pretty light for cornering. Realistically you have to ask yourself as well… how good of an ejection seat is this…? Riding position can play a big role. Gentle distribution of weight on to each tire into the corners with braking done before and powering out after.  Try not to mix them or face the consequences. Overload the front wheel in the corner and prepare to eat pavement. Overload the back going into or out of the corner and you likely to eat it again, however with a good reflexes and riding position you have a chance to quickly rebalance and dance the rear out into a recovery. Then you’ll end up with more of a shit eating grin and making a promise to yourself to take it easy on the rest of the ride…

ABS, or TCS  are for when you mess up or get in a messed up situation. They help you be less messy, but won’t make you safe. In winter, most rear ABS will still lock when engine braking and hard on the rear brake. A good ABS on the front is good in a straight line but go ahead… test it in the middle of a slick corner, I dare you. 😉 The’ve kept me upright many times and so without a doubt at least ABS is a must have for off summer riding. Its a lucky horseshoe to have up your ass and probably why on all new bikes ABS is mandatory…

READ THE ROAD SURFACE

This is standard for every ride, but in winter you need to be hyper diligent. It always comes down to traction and this is exactly where I messed up.  Anything is ok to ride over as long as you’re not braking, throttling or cornering… Once you start playing with these forces you start to ask a lot out of a small contact patch of rubber. Dialling it way back from a summer ride, cold pavement is fine, wet pavement is fine but put the two together and watch the hell out!  Roads have a sheen or a white frosty look when its real cold. Often the higher the sheen the higher the pucker factor and your need to be real careful.  Usually they are all smaller patches so tire placement is key.  A white frosty look is frost right?… or is it? More often than not, you’re actually looking at dried road salts. Big difference between the two and slowing down and dragging a boot will give you the answer right away. Neither of those as dangerous as the glaze. Different pavement has a different look and so learning to recognize the differences and quickly responding to it will be the difference of riding or testing the abrasion resistance of your riding suit. 

Concrete is often colder, stony and lighter in colour, making it almost impossible to read. You’ll know when you see an ice patch and that about it.  Asphalt is perfect,  when new… sound familiar? The perfect peg scraping summer roads will give you a grin even when you’re wiping the snot from your face. Consistent, reliable, and undamaged surfaces are just as easy to trust, and read in winter, it’s the old stuff thats sketchy. Cracked and worn down surfaces give you mixed messages. They’re crap to begin with making reading them constant work.  Slow’er down and take it easy, it’s as challenging and intense as a mid summer rip, just slower… and colder.  Not even mentioning the tar repair strips yet… thats simple, just make sure you dodge all of those, always. 

Tire placement and tire placement becomes the best answer. Where the car tires go, you go as well. Usually warmed and scrubbed up a slight bit, as always it’s a safer bet than riding centre lane.  For those who know about proper lane position, I once learned from “The Ice Man” (a somewhat well known Canadian extreme winter rider) that not riding in the Dominant Lane Position and riding the shoulder will put you on the side of most cars exhaust. Slightly warmer over there, you have a better chance for traction in extreme cases and that’s true. 

With all that said, I am no master. Part of the drive to ride for many of us is the challenge to better our skills on every ride, and so I hope I never reach the top if there is one.