Sunday, March 1, 2009

I’ll take the rain over snow…


by Rocky Marks

Rain Rain go away come again anoth… actually, I’ll take it!”  Yep you heard right, I’ll take rain this time of year!  Rain means warmer temperatures and no snow on the road!  My bike has been cooped up in the garage far too long to let a little rain stand between me and the feeling that cruising to work on two wheels gives me.  For many, it’s time to get out and ride—even if it’s just for a few days.

This is also a time of year when many accidents happen.  While it may be true that you never forget how to ride a bike, it is also true that we all forget many of the safety tips we learned when we first got our permit.  I would recommend picking up a safety manual at one of your local motorcycle dealerships or going on-line to brush up before you roll out into the hazards and debris on the road that await motorcyclists this time of year.

Just riding in to work over the last few days reminded me of how much I forgot.  Here are of some of the things that I encountered in just two days of riding in the rain.  

Be conscious of the surface area where you are riding your bike.  Painted lines like crosswalks and stop lines at red lights can be slippery.  Slow down and make the turn straight up rather than leaning the bike.

Straight and slow also holds true for many of the older roads in and around the Pittsburgh Area.  Most of the roads in my neighborhood are brick or cobblestone.  I know there are a few intersections in downtown Pittsburgh that sport the same 1890’s technology.

Be on the lookout for steel as you ride along in the rain.  Some of the trickiest riding can be over the steel joints on any one of the hundreds of bridges in Western Pennsylvania.  I know for many people bridges are taboo even on a dry day in an automobile, but If you want to get anywhere in Pittsburgh, you’re going to have to eventually go over a bridge—and maybe even through a tunnel. 

For me, the Ft. Duquesne Bridge is the trickiest bridge on my way home.  The steel that joins the concrete together are not only on the straight part of the bridge but they are also in the turns leading up to and coming off of the bridge.  Speed can be your enemy, slow down.

From day one, we’ve been told to avoid riding in the center of the road because grease droppings from cars and trucks and can and will produce an oil slick on the road.  I couldn’t agree more.  The manual says instead to ride in the tracks of the vehicle in front of you.  There is a little problem with that safety tip.  It would almost work if we didn’t live in the pothole capital of the world. 

This is a tricky one.  Oil covered pavement or potholes?  It is a tough choice.  When it rains, water ponds and fills up potholes to give the illusion that the road is even.  If hitting a pothole in a car can do serious damage to a vehicle, can you imagine what the end result of hitting a deep one on a motorcycle would be?  I’ve seen everything from severely bent rims to wrecked bikes.  My advice would be to watch the vehicle in front of you.  Watch the way the water splashes from its rear tire.  A simple (and obvious) rule of thumb is bigger the splash, the bigger the hazard is in front of you.   Try to safely move over to where you can actually see the road’s surface.  

Some motorcycle manufacturers like Harley-Davidson and Honda give the consumer an option to purchase a bike with or without ABS.  In our ‘neck of the woods’ it’s probably a safer bet to choose a motorcycle with ABS.  I have one with ABS and I won’t ride anything else.  When it comes to stopping, I can do so on a dime regardless of my speed without sliding or having the bike kick out from underneath me.  Go to your dealership and ask for a demo ride on a bike with ABS, you will be glad you did.

I know ‘ol Phil saw his shadow, so that means we’ll probably get a little more snow between now and the “official” start of riding season, but I can’t begin to tell you how great it was to get a couple of days of riding in.. even if it was in the rain.

The writer is Operations Manager at Hot Metal Harley-Davidson located in West Mifflin and Host of “On the Road with Rocky” on 660 AM Thursdays @ 1:00 PM

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