As the freezing rain/sleet/snow mess which congealed on the Ozark roadways yesterday begins to melt, I'm looking forward to yet another ride on Tuesday! Ever since "heated gear season" began, I've been blessed to be able to ride every week except one (and then only because I couldn't fit a ride in that week--say it isn't so!!). For most of us in the good ol' US of A, any ride that you can get in between November and March is a bonus ride; it's a real treat!! But there are some special preparations to make and things to be aware of during those arctic jaunts.

You know how all your squid buddies make fun of you for being ATGATT in the summer? Well, now they're still going to make fun of you because you're still wearing it, and it's 40 degrees outside. The wind chill we create that feels great in the heat and humidity can do us considerable harm in cold weather. Keeping our bodies warm is paramount! There are almost as many winter gear options as there are winter riders: base layers, jackets, pants, liners, socks, boots, gloves, balaclavas, caps, scarves, and even Carhartts. Then there's heated gear (wired or wireless). Until you figure out the combination that works best for you, it's better to overdress and have to remove a garment or two then to find yourself miles from home with chattering teeth. Hypothermia is defined as lower than normal body temperature. The first clue your body will give you that you're getting too cold is shivering. If you start to shiver, stop and find someplace to warm up as soon as possible! Earlier in my riding career, I underdressed for a two-hour ride to a RiderCoach update in March in Iowa, because the forecast called for it to be pretty nice on the way home. The venue was a shop garage, big enough for a semi, with Reznor heaters in the ceiling. It was an hour and a half before I stopped shaking.

How about your bike? In addition to the usual T-CLOCS pre-ride inspection, I like to let Sheldon soak up some sun to help warm up his tires. A touring windscreen makes a huge difference in rider comfort. Hand guards or heated grips keep your fingers toasty, and some bikes are even equipped with a bun warmer!

So we're bundled up, our bike is prepped, and we're ready to ride! As our loved ones stand in the window, surrounded by the warm glow of a roaring fire in the wood stove, shaking their heads at us, we roar up the street like it's 99 in the shade, right? Um, no. REMEMBER: we're riding on 50/40/30/20 degree tires, NOT 70/80/90/100 degree tires. Because both the tires AND the street surface are colder, traction is reduced. Motorcycle tires are made of a much softer compound than cage tires. Why? Because in order to turn, we lean the bike, right? That means we need super-sticky tires to help keep us from sliding out. But when it's cold, they're less sticky (ask the racing guys about tire warmers). So that means we need to take it easy on lean angles until they've warmed up a bit. Even then, they're still not going to perform quite like they do in the warmer months; they may not even get to their optimal operating temperature. A good rule of thumb is that the more layers you're wearing, the less traction your tires will have.

Ahhh, it feels SO GREAT to finally be out riding again!!! But things sure do look different, don't they? Those bare trees might allow us to see further through the curves, but due to the sun being lower in the sky, they cast some shadows on the road that we usually only see at dawn and dusk. This can make your vision seem a little wonky and possibly hide debris and defects. And after about 3pm, it really starts getting darker and colder pretty fast. Slow down a little. Take the opportunity to really work on good form and smoothness during these months. Then when the trees green up again and the sun lights up the pavement all day long, you'll have a good foundation to be ripping through the twisties again!

Remember, you're not the only one who's not hibernating. Some of our fine furry friends such as deer, raccoons, and--EWWW!!!--skunks are still out and about, especially at dawn and dusk. And how about the cagers? Our fellow humanoids aren't used to seeing bikes out this time of year. Couple that with reduced winter visibility and we may not even register on the threat scale. Always assume that you're invisible--and that the other guy is going to do something stupid. How do you know if the dude in the lifted RAM 2500 on the side street or the distracted mom in the white minivan (They never drive anything else, do they?) in the parking lot sees you? You don't. So how do you know what they're going to do? Your best bet is to look at the front tires. That tells you if the car is moving and in what direction. And the coolest (Ha! Get it??) part is that this strategy works in winter, spring, summer, and fall!

Winter riding is A LOT of fun!!! Motorcycle riding is a perishable skill, so any seat time you can get in the "off-season" will help to keep you sharp. Proper preparation and being aware of the peculiar characteristics of the winter riding environment will keep you riding all year long. So bundle up, let's ride!!!!