Tactical Maneuvers

16 November, 2005 Temperature: 20 degrees

We barely got an inch of snow last night, but that wasn’t the problem. When I got off work at around four p.m., it was raining and about 34 degrees. In other words, freezing rain. This is one of those weather conditions which are dangerous no matter how many wheels you have underneath you. Fortunately, it was not yet freezing on the roads, and I figured I had better get home before it did. The other bad thing about the rain was the fact that it found every non-waterproof chink in my cold weather armor. By the time I pulled into my driveway, my hands and feet were numb with cold.

Lesson: I need better gloves and boots.

The Kanetsu electric liner worked as advertised, keeping my core nice and warm. I began noticing ice patches on the road when I was only about three miles from home. The bike wiggled and hunted a bit on it’s dry-road tires, but I found that dragging my feet at about 25 mph stabilized the ride. I don’t think there will be much danger of falling in these conditions, but sliding past a stop sign or traffic signal is a real possibility, if I don’t take the proper precautions.

There was no question of trying to ride to school, staying until late at night, and then trying to deal with the freshly frozen roads all the way home. In the dark. That would be just plain stupid. I drove the car to school. Still, I completed my 50 mile daily commute on the scooter, in tough conditions, and I’m pretty satisfied with the results.

This morning, the rain had turned to snow flurries. The Baron started right up on battery, but the idle rpm was erratic. I may have to figure out how to install a manual choke on this machine. I let some air out of the tires, so they might get better traction on the frozen spots, and we left my driveway at 7:25 a.m.

The Saint Paul side of the commute was pleasant, with most of the roads in “good winter driving conditions”. This is traffic-wonk speak for wet, chemically-treated roads with salty/sandy/slushy patches. However, as soon as I crossed the Lake Street Bridge, from Ramsey into Hennepin county, there was a marked change in the amount of traction available. It seems that big-time Minneapolis had no real interest in keeping the side streets clear of snow. They sprinkled salt and sand haphazardly at stopsigns and some corners, but for the most part they seem really stingy with their resources. I hope this changes as the season wears on. Kudos for Ramsey County and the City of Saint Paul. Keep up the good work!

So, there was no gazing at scenery this morning. All my attention was on the patch of pavement about 50 feet ahead of my front wheel, and the movement of the surrounding traffic. What a difference two hours makes in the level of traffic activity! Leaving at 5:30 in the morning, the Baron and I had the streets to ourselves. By 7:30, there were cars, trucks, and SUVs everywhere, and none of them expected to see a scooter on the road.

We got a whole spectrum of reactions from our fellow commuters: from smiles and waves or thumbs-up; to scowls and impatient honks from those in a hurry. Invariably, those who scowled and honked were driving some expensive luxury car or SUV, had a cell phone glued to their ear, and were stomping on the gas like it was still under a buck-a-gallon. I guess these are People Who Matter. How dare I get in their way on this little toy? “Make way, peasant!”.

It will be interesting to see how these attitudes evolve over the course of the winter. If the same people see us out there, day after day, will they become more sympathetic? Or more aggressive? Stay tuned….

17 Responses to “Tactical Maneuvers”

  1. Joe Tatro Says:

    Kudos on your experiment.
    You can trust that the “Road Royalty” is out there every day, attempting to rule the road at almost any cost. (to the peasants) From my experience cell phones, coffee, food & makeup appear to be their preferred distractions.
    Be Safe above all else.

  2. Chuck Says:

    Gary — thanks for detailing your adventures for us to read. I’m having a ball keeping up with your commutes.

    I have a 90-mile round-trip commute myself which I enjoy on either of my Ducatis or my Moto Guzzi — the large difference for me, though, in that I live in the Arizona desert, which by this time of year is actually quite habitable (although just a couple of months ago, I was dealing with problems of the intense-heat variety).

    It wasn’t long ago, though, since I lived in the mountains of North Carolina, where our winters can be quite adventerous, and I recall arriving home with wreaths of ice-sickles sticking out from the interior of my brake rotors and films and sheets of ice all over the front of my bikes and suit. You have my respect and admiration for both having the opportunity and utilizing that opportunity to ride two-wheeled every day in the extreme weather.

    I’m very interested to hear about what gear you’re using — you’ve mentioned your electric vest from Aerostich (I ride in a Road Crafter suit myself, but I have to admit I moved from their vests to a Widder vest and chaps a few years ago). I’d love to hear what other specific gear you’re using and what your thoughts are.

    Concerning your recent comment on your gloves — I’ve had great success with wearing either my Aerostich winter gloves and my Widder electric gloves (even unplugged) — the “trick” I’ve found it to wear the Aerostich triple-digit rain covers over them, even in the dry. The covers do a fantastic job of a final/outer layer of insulation, and make a world of diference (in my opinion) on the chilling events of winter wind. Give yourself some time to adapt to using your fingers like a lobster, though — the first few times I wore those covers, they played tricks with my mind… or maybe it was just the cold. :)

    Ride safe and ride far!

    Wishing you well from sunny Arizona - Chuck

  3. BC Don Says:

    Gary, just got notification of your endeavor this afternoon. I live in Calgary, AB, Canada and although I can sometimes ride throughout the year, come about this time of year it gets pretty dicey. But, I have ridden in -16C weather (about 0F). Cage drivers here are extremely protective of their space, I’ve had them bump me from behind if they are upset so I don’t tend to ride in iffy weather much anymore.

    Some comments / thoughts. I have some goretex Aprillia street boots, work great for me and don’t get too cold. Cold hands are a problem, even with the electric grips that I have. When I had my XR650L air cooled machine I could warm my fingers on the cylinder head. Don’t know if you’ve resolved your visor issue yet but you can purchase a “fog shield” that sticks on and pretty well resolves this. Your other option is to go to a dive shop and get some anti-fog from them, this works well on glasses if you wear them under your helmet. I found that a flip style helmet works well. You’ll also want to get a balaclava for real cold weather I suspect, I never went beyond the neck warmer though (I wore a full ’stich suit all the time). Oh and a dirty ’stich suit doesn’t breath as well and keeps you warmer. I’ve had experience with ice, with smooth slippery ice you are down before you can blink, hopefully using your “outriggers” (legs) can prevent this. Your other option is to “stud” your tires if it is legal. For Ice racing around here, folks take their knobbies and go to a local hardware store and get a few hundred screws and screw them sideways thorugh the knobbies. That’s a lot cheaper than “real” ice racing tires with studs (which you can get as well but I don’t know about your size). And for gloves, check out “ice climbing” gloves, I have a pair that are quite thick, pre-curved and gortex lined with leather outers.

    As you can see, if you think of other sports you’ll often find cross over equipment (bicycling is another, you can get neoprene covers for your break levers). You can also get “booties” that are goretex or neoprene based.

    I’ll be following your postings with interest.

    BC Don.

  4. Harvey S. Cohen Says:

    For cold or wet weather, there is absolutely nothing like muffs and an apron. Go to a European city like Paris or Rome, where 2-wheel commuting is the norm, and you will see them by the thousands.
    The only U.S. source for really good muffs and aprons is Metroscoot (http://www.metroscoot.com).
    See my yellow GL1800 at http://flickr.com/photos/harvey_s_cohen/sets/999128/

  5. Pat H (you know me) Says:

    Gary, I’m bursting with pride for you. And I am SOOO jealous.

    I floated a similar idea to my wife a couple months ago and was given an immediate “Absolutely not.” I’ll live vicariously through your reports, every day. And I’ll try again next year. Thank you.

    You’re going to give two-wheeled commuting a real kick in the pants with this. Keep up the good work. And let your scooter guy know that when the time comes for me to buy one, he’s the guy.

    One nitpick: you mentioned the red light law in an earlier entry. People should bear in mind that it’s an affirmative defense, and not license to run red lights. You can still get ticketed for it, but the new law gives you a defense in traffic court if you can prove A, B, C, and D.


  6. Val Gregory Says:

    Gary, you might see if Aerostich will spot you a pair of their lobster-claw overgloves - a water-and-wind-proof layer over your usual winter riding gloves will take you a long way to keeping your hands warm, even if it’s not raining.

    I’ve got a pair of Outdoor Research overmitts from REI that do the trick, but the lobster-claw gives you more dexterity. I went to Widder electric gloves several years back; on cold days (like this morning at 15F) I add a pair of gold-thread glove liners (also from REI) that conduct heat around to even out cold spots.

    The suggestion of Goretex riding boots is a very good one, too.

    Val Gregory
    Littleton, CO

  7. Peter Perez Says:

    Congrats on your survival! I’ve ridden throughout many Colorado winters that are not as harsh as yours. Heated grips, ice climbing gloves, ski bibs and felt pac hunting boots get me by just fine. I have the Kanetsu vest too, but don’t need it until the temps get to the mid 20s.

  8. oldwing Says:

    Gary, You are THE MAN !
    I’m just getting into scootering commutering ,
    leaving my Motorcycles for the LONG rides.
    You may inspire me to keep it going all season….

    I feel like a wimp looking at tomorrows weather and worrying about ‘Chance of Flurries?” for my 11 mile backroad commute.

    But …. Are you sure this isn’t propoganda to drum up sales for Andy?

    Best regards , Oldwing
    Zuma - Venture - Beemer - KLR - Intruder - CB100 +
    Choko sled suit , Frye boots , HJC gloves
    Open face helmet + Baclava ( Balaclava?)

  9. Tim Says:

    We had the same weather up here in Ottawa, Canada when I had to go to work yesterday. Just hovering around freezing with drizzle. Taking the Zuma out into that was just way too intimidating. Although I ride at city street speeds, there is very heavy traffic on my way to work, and I don’t have the luxury of gliding along with my feet out. So, its the bus for me. Anyway, keep up the good work, be safe.

  10. Sam Henry Says:

    I’m following your adventure with pleasure.
    My own riding isn’t nearly as adventurous. I recently sold my Kawasaki Ninja 250 and traded in my Gold Wing for a Suzuki Burgman 650 scooter. For the first 500 miles I wasn’t to exceed 4000 rpm, but that is 60 mph in overdrive. For the next 500 miles not to exceed 6000 rpm, that is 90 mph so I could get on expressways again. It is over 1000 miles now and on a jaunt to Harrisburg recently I ran it up to 100 mph. That is as fast as I want to go.
    Here in SE Pennsylvania we don’t have the weather you do. I ride when the road is dry, regardless of temperature, but when there is snow or ice on the road, I use my Mazda Miata convertible sports car or my Subaru Outback with all wheel drive and antilock brakes.
    The Burgman has the belt drive like the Baron, but 650 cc instead of 150.
    I’m 78 now and I think the Burgman should be good for the next 12 years.
    Sam Henry

  11. newell wright Says:

    Its nice to see that adventure is not dead :-) I too tried to ride on ice and snow, on a Suzuki 370 dirt bike. It is impossible to steer a motorcycle on ice and i too stuck my feet down and used them to pitch and steer.

    This year I’ve decided to try something different: a sidecar and studded tires. Will let you know how it works.

    Wait. Is using a sidecar cheating?

    Newell Wright, 55, TN

  12. mnscooter Says:

    Okay, it looks like a bunch of you are interested in riding gear. First, let me admit right up front that if this helps Andy sell more of his excellent riding gear, I’m all for it. It’s not propaganda, I’m doing this because I can’t stand the idea of joining the herd of cages out there on the freeway every day. But Aerostich gear is helping to make this a real adventure, rather than an exercise in pain tolerance. The list of gear I am trying/testing is long, and the Aerostich folks are working with me to find the ideal combination for dealing with these conditions.

    In addition to the Kanetsu Airvantage liner, I am using the Hadwear head scarf thing underneath the Merona wool balaclava. These take care of that crucial neck space. For the coldest days, he also sent me a white silk scarf to wrap another layer around under the helmet. Considering the whole “Red Baron” aspect, how appropo is that?

    We tried a whole bunch of different anti-fog solutions, but I screwed up the installation of the Fog City shield. I tried to do it when I was in a hurry and it did not go well. READ THE DESTRUCTIONS, right?

    I ended up getting a snowmobile helmet from Bob’s Cycle Supply, with a double-pane visor and fighter-pilot facemask, and it is working perfectly. If things change when the weather gets REAL cold, I may try some of the other gadgets Aerostich sent me. Otherwise, I’ll send those back. But everyone involved has been very supportive.

    For instance, Laura Hunter at Kenda USA contacted all of their warehouses here in the `States to find the K761 knobbies I need, to no avail. She tells me that she will have Taiwan air ship them directly to me soon, and Bob’s Cycle Supply have agreed to mount them for me.

    So you see, I am not doing this by myself. I certainly would if I had to, but it is so much nicer to have other people helping out. Between sponsor support and the response I get to this blog, I feel like I have a whole squadron of friends riding with me out there every day. I hope that what I learn and pass-on here will help everyone else extend their riding season and enjoy their commutes more.

    Ride well,

  13. Paul Says:

    This is great!

    Consider fitting your scooter with a larger windshield and some hand protectors. Keeping the wind off will increase your comfort level. I enjoy my electric vest, but make sure you carry spare fuses. Once the fuse is blown, the vest doesn’t offer much warmth.

    You may see the same cagers everyday, but they will never see you…

    Paul, invisible in SoCal

  14. Johntm Says:

    We’re watching! http://www.advrider.com/forums/showthread.php?t=105495

    The carburetor probably has an electric choke, and it will likely fail soon. Most do. You might want to start investigating a keihin or mikuni carb for that little feller.

    Come join us! www.advrider.com

    In awe,

  15. Dick Aal Says:

    I salute your efforts. Having ridden bicycle to work for several years about half that total distance I understand some of the thought process behind your effort. Also having been born and raised in Western North Dakota I can see some of the obstacles you are up against. I can remember one winter with the car in the garage, the headbolt heater plugged in and the battery in the house on a heater vent. I then walked to work at -56 F weather. Fortunately it was not too windy. But walking 50 miles a day is not an option. Having ridden motorcycles and snowmobiles a lot, I see where you can master the cold factor. But the friction or traction factor is one you still will need help with. also having ridden in sleet conditions and you will ride in snow storms what about vision problems in the future? Can you use studded tires on your scooter? Have you looked into that? It would be great to see the look on the cager’s faces while you go around a corner on hard packed snow at 20 miles and hour while they are going around at 2-5 miles an hour. I know studs are illegal in many states but your weight and footprint on the pavement may be able to get you a pass on that. Good luck and I envey you your journey. P.S. I now live in California and last month was riding in tahoe in the early morning when it was about 38 F.

  16. mnscooter Says:

    Studding the tires is an option, of course, but I’m not sure about the legality in Minnesota. I do know they are illegal on cars, so I guess it just depends how diligent they were when writing the law. There may be a loophole that I can exploit here…

    However, I’m not sure how far I want to compromise dry-road traction by adding studs. During most of the winter here, the plows keep the roads pretty clear. It is only right after a big storm that we have any accumulation, and that goes away within a few days. When I really think about it, I guess I am hoping to get through this without having to stud the tires. Stay tuned, and…

    Ride well,

  17. Buster Brown Says:


    Ice screws are the answer. Don’t overdo it and they won’t mess you up on dry pavement. Just a single row on the next to outside row of knobs. Of course, you need knobs thick enough to take a 1/2″ screw. Anything less will probably spit out; well, maybe not at scooter speeds, but every time I see somebody trying to run shorter screws, they seem to spit them all out in a couple of miles, even going easy.

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