Sometimes a ride takes shape long before the tires roll out onto the road. Last night Kim, Junior and I were wandering through the evening, air thick with moisture with a distant whisper of cold. Junior raced across a water soaked field wondering why the tennis ball wouldn’t bounce while Kim photographed reflections in the swollen waters of Spring Creek. As I considered the swaying flag I was already making plans to ride the next morning. Calculations turning and mental evaluations of temperature, persistent snow and ice, precipitation, and most importantly, mental status, occupied the scene before me.
While the meat-based computer chewed on the problem at hand something new was added to the equation — “Is there fun in winter riding?”. A question raised in comments some posts back it’s come up more than once. Riding in cold and gloom — how can this be fun?
If you ride enough in weather that provides less than ideal conditions you’ll probably find yourself questioning your riding decision. And if you never ride in unfavorable conditions you’ll likely be wondering what’s wrong with those who place themselves and their machines at risk. Riding into Rothrock State Forest I knew there was a possibility that the roads would not yet be clear having once stranded a pickup truck with chains on the tires in the mountains at this time of year. Since then I’m grown wiser and less foolhardy. Standing above the Vespa I could imagine the road ahead growing worse and the narrow tracks between the ice would soon vanish. Time to retreat to the relative safety of the valley.
What’s fun about this? There’s no freedom of movement or sense of flying when your path is 12 inches of mostly clear pavement between solid curbs of ice. Movement is slow and tortured at best. The air temperature floated at 35F which compared to recent months feels almost balmy but still requires considerable attention lest a rider fall into agony. There is nothing fun about being cold and it’s easy to understand why so many riders dismiss their motorcycles when their summer gear ceases to keep them feeling fine with the wind in their hair.
I wonder if scaling a cliff face or braving a blizzard on the side of a mountain in the Himalayas is fun. Or camping rough along the trail during the Iditarod-the last great race on earth — is that fun? Thinking for the past couple weeks about the fun question keeps bring me to the same answer: “Yes, it’s fun, but not in the way you may define fun.”.
For me, riding in “bad” weather is only fun in a narrow definition of the word. If fun equals satisfaction than I have a lot of fun riding in the winter. The feeling of accomplishment can be strong. Persevering against the elements requires commitment, focus and strategy to succeed and each positive outcome yields it’s own unique rewards.
For me. But what works for me may be disastrously wrong for another rider.
The difference in the landscape from the blue skies and sunshine of summer to the hard steel cold and grit of winter is dramatic. It’s as if you’re a player on a cinematic stage. I feel different and my mind responds differently. Fun? It’s not like riding on a water slide on a warm sunny day or wrestling with a puppy, but it is addictively satisfying for mind, body and spirit for the right rider.
Unfortunate things can happen when you ride in the winter. Some slow, hardly noticeable, like salt slowly eating away and key mechanical components or rapidly aging the finish of your machine far ahead of its time. Other events are instantaneous, like a sudden slide out of the front when on snow and your immediate destination becomes the ground. Gravity has more power in the frictionless cold or the water sodden earth of thaw.
The Vespa looks safe and content in this picture, awaiting my return after a quick portrait. Ten feet from the scooter I saw it start to fall over as the center stand sank into the soft mud. I was able to catch it before it hit the ground but I could not help but think of all the times I was fooled by the winter landscape. It’s part of the challenge to be assumed, managed and embraced. Nine years ago was my first and only drop on two-wheels — early in my winter riding adventures and with little skill to help navigate the variables. I didn’t stop then and have never looked back.
So, is it fun to ride in the winter? For me, absolutely. For anyone else? Only they can answer that.