Sunday, September 7, 2008

Riding, Weather, and Managing Risk.

Just turn on the TV and it’s unavoidable. The weather dominates. The remnants Of Hanna has departed New England leaving over 6” of rain locally in 12 hours. Ike is ravaging the Turks and Caicos poised to run at Cuba and then enter the Gulf. It’s bad news all around. The Keys are evacuating. Mother Nature wins every time.

Riding in bad weather has it's rewards... Cmon it's a lighthouse in the fog! If you are home this shot is unavailable to you... Channell light, Lubec Maine

I’ve been reading about many instances where weather has effected riding this weekend. My local HOG chapter changed the logistics of a ride to accommodate the departing storm. I read on a forum about a guy who is thinking about changing marquee because his BMW gave him a false sense of security and he wound up in a serious butt pucker situation. With all this going on I have spent some time considering how my decision process works with managing risks with the weather on my bike.

Wind presents it's own obstacles

I’m a Rounder and damn proud of it. I live in New Hampshire where it isn’t always easy to be a Rounder. I get asked often why I would subject myself and my bike to those conditions. I always answer the same
“Because not riding is unacceptable”
Do I think riding in shitty weather is a whole lotta fun? It can be and sometimes not so much. If my head is into it, I’m having a blast. Be it summer and 80F or winter and 10F. If my head is right, the weather cooperates, I have the right gear, it’s all good.

Riding in winter presents it's own beauty and satisfaction

My decision to go, not go.
In my opinion there are three components to the decision. The weather, the bike (gear) and me. It’s not two out of three. It has to be unanimous. It’s all three or nothing. I think this came out of SCUBA for me. If everything is not there and working perfectly, the dive is called off. We had a rule in the group I dove with. Anyone can call a dive off for any reason and no-one will ever ask why. It’s off for whatever reason period. No questions are asked, no embarrassment. You are not diving and no-one else needs to recover your body. That’s a welcome situation all around. The same goes for riding. If all three aren’t working, there should be no riding. To be honest I have pushed it on an occasion or two but that was because two out of three were so strong for me that it allowed me to be ok with a marginal situation on one. I’m talking marginal here. That happens, you live (or don’t ) with the decision.

Nothing beats a great weather day in the fall

The weather
This one is easy. Mother nature always wins. I mean always! She may let you off the hook but it is on her whim, not yours. Be aware of her mood. Check the weather but don’t totally trust it. If you suspect she is having PMS, stay home. Her power is much greater than you or your puny motorcycle. With a flick of her finger, you’re gone. Wait her out because she’s fickle, she’ll change.
The bike (gear)
Many things are manageable with the right equipment. Good exposure protection, well maintained bike, emergency gear, tools. Have the right gear and bike for the riding you are going to do. Know your bike’s limitations. I shouldn’t take my Harley dual sporting and you shouldn’t take your BMW and park it in front of the 81 clubhouse. It’s not safe. Don’t do it. Personally I don’t like setting out in the rain. I never have, that is not about gear though, that is about…

The mountains have their own weather. This pic was taken from MT Washington. Some of the most hostile and unpredictable weather in the world.

It is important that my head be right for the day ahead. The fun factor goes way down fast if I’m tired, thirsty, hung-over, whatever. On a bad weather day, it is downright dangerous. I need to be focused and I need to be able to maintain it. There is no compromise on this. I can set out ok if I’m a bit off, but I can’t maintain. I need to be able to make good timely decisions. I need to trust my riding instincts. My senses will be impaired some. My thought processes cannot be. Gail and I ride together through many conditions. When the roads are good she even admits she doesn’t know how I stick with her through the hard twisties riding my heavy HD and her riding her powerful K-BMW. However Gail and I always have this weird situation develop when we ride and it starts to rain hard. I slow down and she maintains her speed better. I really don’t know what she would think as I slowed down and became more deliberate in my riding. Recently we had a frank conversation about it. This is what I think it is and she believes it to have some merit. I see well (20/15) she wears contacts and doesn’t see as well. Therefore I feel quite a bit more uncomfortable when my vision is impaired than she does. She is used to it and I’m not. She trusts her other senses more than I do therefore she feels less impaired. My bike is planted and I don’t feel that the bike can’t handle it. It’s about me and my ability to perceive where I am on the road. I feel handicapped so I slow down. I’m ok with it. The guy I mentiuoned earlier on the forum has an issue that’s for sure, but it’s not about his bike. It’s about his head and his decision making process. As Dirty Harry says “A man must know his limitations” changing his marquee will not fix that.

The thermomter read 118F here in the Badlands SD. Many chose to stay in Wall to wait for evening to continue on. It was the right decision for them at the time.

The wildcard; Group riding

What can I say about this? Ride your ride! Peer pressure is a powerful thing. It takes confidence to resist it. It takes frank conversations about “what if”. It takes strength to say no. Talk about it, the other’s you are riding with may feel the same apprehension. They are just waiting to feel validated. You must talk about it. If the decision is to go and you are not comfortable with it then don’t do it. Chances are your friends will come back and tell you that you were the smart one.

In my opinion most of life is about managing risk. . Don’t manage it properly and it could cost you everything. However a life without risk taking is boring. Manage it properly and you will feel empowered, strong, confident, and in control.

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