Tuesday, July 25th, 10:46 PM
After hours of farting around in the headlight bowl, I successfully spliced over a burnt connection and Rosie the Scrambler fired to life. Having sat out the previous day, the riding streak was reborn.
Wednesday, July 26th, 7:37 AM
Day 2: The morning commute.
For newcomers to the blog, early last year we caught an unseasonable break in the weather in early February which led to an impressive number of winter riding days. That streak of riding gave birth to the suspicion that I may indeed be able to ride a motorcycle for 365 consecutive days in Dayton, Ohio. Following similar rules that Blaine Paulus Jr. set for himself, I ride a motorcycle for 10 miles or more each day. Having successfully patched the bike back together following a “minor” electrical hiccup on July 23rd, I saw no reason to back down from the challenge in the heart of riding season, thus “I got back on the horse.” In the back of my mind, I still assumed life or other maintenance frustrations would intervene long before December, nonetheless, “Ride 365” was added to the Moto Bucket List.
Saturday, January 6th, 9:03 AM
Day 166: I pull in the clutch, close my eyes, and bite my lip as I press and hold the starter button. The engine cranks and cranks for what feels like an eternity.
“Is this the day… is this the day the bike doesn’t start?” I think to myself…
As Thanksgiving gave way to Christmas, I knew the brutal winter months were upon me. In recent years I’ve been pretty successful riding deep into December on both the Speedmaster and the Scrambler. I’ve even rode on New Year’s Day a few times, but there’s almost always a two week stretch shortly thereafter that is absolutely bitter. While not the worst I’ve seen since getting my endorsement, Old Man Winter still managed to dump a good dusting of snow on us in early December, and then a good two to three inches right before Christmas. The Christmas snow was also followed by a deep freeze that lasted well into the new year; it was teens for days, with many nights below zero.
When this crazy idea was first hatched, riding in the snow itself was probably my greatest fear. Right around Christmas I took a ride around the neighborhood in some excessively sub-freezing temperatures. With a good dusting of snow in the intersection, I realized the tires had more traction than I expected. It was not plentiful, that is for certain, but I would equate it to riding in mud, without the “sinking” sensation. As time went on, my fear of the snow conceded to fear of killing the battery or worse the starter. Each weather cycle seemed to bring a dusting of snow, some flurries, and then a hard freeze into the single digits for several days. If memory serves, the temperature didn’t reach freezing from December 26th until something like January 10th. I full well recognize that folks in Michigan and Minnesota are probably laughing at that comment, but that’s somewhat of an oddity in Southern Ohio. It may freeze, it may well be ten below zero, but that trend seldom lasts for more than two or three days. By the first couple days in January, I was really concerned that the hard starts would eventually overtax the bike.
Beyond truncating the life of the starter, I was also apprehensive about the corrosive effects of the salt. Many folks have echoed those concerns on Instagram, to which I’ve replied “Fortunately I have a protective coating of dirt!” While that is true, there’s only so much mud on the bike after it gets rinsed off in the rain, and even while typing this, I am indeed concerned about the health of the chain and the fasteners. The chain, while vital, can be replaced, and the paint can washed; unfortunately only time will tell how the fasteners “weather the storm”.
Saturday, January 6th, 9:03 AM
Day 166 continued: After the engine turned over for about the fifth time, I heard a “spud”. It turned over at least two more times, “spud-spud”, and finally fired to life. Turning up the heated grips, I went back inside to put on my gear while the engine warmed up. Carefully backing out of the snow covered driveway, I headed down the street to one of the neighborhood churches. One of the local police officers was actually sitting in the parking lot next door. As I pulled up in front of the digital billboard, I noticed the officer craning his head around to look at me. I’m not sure if he was curious who was parking in his blind spot or trying to confirm he just saw a motorcycle. I stepped off the bike to snap the obligatory photo of the current temperature. Zero degrees, a new personal record.
Going Toe-to-Toe with Old Man Winter
After pushing the limit last winter, I discovered traditional hand guards, heated gloves, and even the old rubber glove “trick” wasn’t enough to keep the feeling in your fingers for more than a few moments when riding in single-digit temperatures. Fortunately, this December I got my hands on a couple sets of riding “mitts”. I’ve suggested in the past that a set of “Hippo Hands” might be mandatory equipment for riding year-round; I will not only confirm that suspicion has proved to be true, but I also have no idea why I didn’t try it sooner.
While that lazy start on January 6th made me a bit nervous, it actually wasn’t the worst. On New Year’s Day the air temperature was hovering in the low single-digits; the bike really did crank for what seemed like forever before it finally started. I texted a buddy about my concerns with the cold starts killing my starter. He told me I should put a heating pad on the engine, or perhaps buy a sump heater. I couldn’t believe that idea never occurred to me; way back in high school I can remember someone telling me that northerners actually plug their cars in so they will start. At the time that seemed like the craziest thing. I’m here to tell you, when it’s below 20°F, your bike is unhappy, and it does not want to start. After putting the engine on a sump heater for about half an hour, she cranks twice and fires; life is good.
That fine zero-degree morning I wasn’t in a hurry so I actually went down to the river to take a few photos. The river access road was completely covered in snow. To make matters worse, the snow was also packed down from car traffic. While not the first time, that morning was one of my best lessons on riding through snow; when it’s hard packed, you’re riding on it, and the slightest imbalance can cause a tire to “break loose”. The rear tire spun up quite a few times on the way down to the low damn. Short of idling, it took a lot of finesse to hold the throttle light enough to prevent wheel spin. My advice: embrace the fishtail.
Approaching the parking lot a little further down, I was surprised to find the Great Miami River completely frozen. I’ve seen it before, but it’s probably been more than a decade since it’s been frozen solid in that spot. After snapping a few photos I flipped down my visor to discover that it was frosting up, rather significantly. At zero, there’s apparently no avoiding it, even with a double pane shield. I suspect that “cracking” the visor to let in more air actually expedited the frost. It’s apparent that if I want to extend my winter rides beyond ten miles under similar conditions, I’m going to have to invest in a heated visor.
Around the 11th of January we finally received a reprieve; the temperatures came out of the deep freeze as a heavy storm front came through and dumped some significant rain on the Midwest. Well above freezing, I naturally rode to work, despite the rain. The run-off on the commute home was pretty substantial, but it’s what happened in the following day that was more concerning. After the bike spent most of the day in the rain, the temperatures again plummeted back below freezing. Stepping out to warm up the bike the next morning, I struggled to push the bike over to the door so I could plug in the sump heater. All that wonderful rain water had successfully frozen the brake levers on both the front and rear. Take my word for it, rubbing alcohol is a much better de-icer than WD-40.
Monday, January 15th, 6:09 PM
Day 175: It snowed most of the day. While not the most accumulation we’d seen this winter, it was at least a couple inches. When I decided I was riding through the winter, I knew there would come a day where I would be riding on a completely covered roadway. While still at the office, I suspect this was that day. To my surprise, when I got home it was evident that the road crews had done a pretty good job of getting things cleared up. At only twenty-something outside, I fired up the bike and got dressed for battle. While out on one of my 10 mile loops, I passed a completely snow covered side street. It was time to test the limits of the Scrambler.
I’ve never really taken notice of the little “dip” in that side street. It’s amazing what a little elevation will do to reduce traction. Somewhere under that snow was a layer of frozen rain, probably sitting on top of a hard packed layer of snow from the last storm we had. While it’s obvious I’m crawling in the video, the rear wheel never “caught” the whole way up that tiny hill, it was one continuous fishtail.
In the end, something I was convinced would be hair raising two years ago, actually turned out to be a lot of fun. I’m sure riding down the highway, white-knuckled in a snow storm is not something I’m going to enjoy, but a little snow riding here and there hasn’t been too bad. I’m pretty confident that last year’s off-road riding made this possible. I’m hopeful that “snow riding” will translate into more confident dirt riding this year. There’s also no question, I would not have been able to ride over that snow on street tires; knobbies for the winter was definitely the way to go. Which makes me wonder, what would studded tires be like?
The Road Ahead
Looking back through the photos, I barely recognize summer. It’s been cold, dark, and “salty-grey” for what seems like forever. In reality I rode to Kentucky in November to see Grandma; the leaves had barely fallen off the trees at that point. I suppose that just goes to show how “sunlight starvation” can get to you.
Tuesday was day 183, the “halfway point���. The days are getting longer and the temperatures, at least for now, appear to be trending up. That said, it’s still early; flurries are falling outside as I type this, and February could easily dump a foot of snow on us. I expect the weather will start to warm up, marginally, but I’m still anxious about keeping the bike running. Right now I’m staring down a new chain and a new rear tire, meanwhile I’m still working toward having the bike ready to “rally” come March. Between weather, work, and my mechanic skills, 182 more days is still a long way off. Despite standing in the shadow of a mountain, I’m still proud to have made it 180 straight days, especially through the heart of January. Hopefully February delivers an early birthday present again this year.