Spring roads go from wet to dry and back in the course of one ride, demanding more attenti
Once Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow, we’re in for at least six more weeks of schizophrenic weather somewhere between winter and spring. Despite the celebrated 20-lb. prophet’s 39 percent accuracy rate, it’s probably going to be a bit sketchy out there well past the Vernal Equinox.
That’s no time to be letting your guard down. For the purposes of this exercise, let’s assume any motorcycle emerging from hibernation after months of cold storage is already up to scratch. Beyond that, the price of staying out of trouble is a process that starts before the engine does. What’s the weather looking like? A medium-tint faceshield deals with a broader spectrum of light and shadows than a dark one. Pack a clear one for long rides, just in case.
Make sure your gear is warm enough in the morning without turning into a mobile sweat lodge in the afternoon. Starting with a moisture-wicking foundation layer helps, followed by another one you can peel off and stow if things heat up later. Tough modern miracle fabrics that keep wind and water from getting in while letting evaporating perspiration out are best: Gore-Tex Pro-Shell Armacor, for instance. Protect your hands and feet with gloves and boots capable of fending off whatever sort of weather you might encounter.
It’s easy to get carried away when your favorite road is closer to clean and dry than flooded or frozen, but ease into it anyway. Tires take a little longer to heat up on cold pavement, so get a feel for available grip a little at a time, even when the surface looks perfect. There are probably a few lingering hazards out there to trip up the unwary. Fresh cracks and potholes often emerge with the spring thaw, so keep your eyes moving. It didn’t rain last night, but a seep from last week’s deluge can leave a wet, slippery strip in that next blind corner. Adjust your pace and perceptions accordingly, and keep those eyes working a little more than the customary 12 seconds ahead—enough time to find an escape route if something fouls up your original trajectory. And beware the dreaded shaded corner.
Morning light dries open bends, but takes a while longer to drive insidious moisture out of sheltered ones. Mountain roads and northern climates can throw you another curve: Did it freeze last night? A lingering patch of ice in the shade or on a bridge can cause your ride to end in the ditch, and it’s hard to see. For reasons known only to God and David Attenborough, mud, rocks, gravel and emergent wildlife like hanging out in shady, off-camber, second-gear bends at this time of year, so be prepared.
Heading to work in a light drizzle seems safer than braving a downpour, except a little water blends with all those other accumulated contaminants instead of washing them away. Expect pavement on your way to work to be considerably slipperier than usual in spots; especially freeways and heavily traveled surface streets. Relatively benign urban hazards such as painted crosswalks, manhole covers and light-rail tracks get very slippery when slightly wet. It all adds up to less speed, more than the minimum 2-second following distance and smoother inputs on all the controls wherever you go. Allow yourself extra time to make the trip. Nothing puts you on the deck faster than rushed, sloppy riding on a misty twilight commute.
Smooth, safe riding is always a matter of expecting the unexpected, and there’s never any shortage of that out there. But unless you’ve got some of the Magic Punch they give Phil every year at the Groundhog Picnic to guarantee another seven healthy years, buffer that post-winter enthusiasm with a little discretion. Summer will be here any day now.