29 November, 2005 Temperature: 22 degrees F
The weather was gorgeous last night when I left work. Fifty degrees, with the sun hanging low in the sky, it didn’t feel anything like winter at all. I had my Kenda K761 knobby tires bungied to the back of the scooter, and I was riding over to Baron HQ (Bargain Jim’s, in Plymouth, MN) to change over to my tactical traction mode.
This installation was interesting. In order to change the rear tire on the Baron 150SX, you have to remove the entire exhaust system and right-side swingarm. Doing that requires that you have a new exhaust gasket handy. My trusty crew chief, Lorne, helped me through the entire procedure. The front went fine, nice and easy. The rear was a real challenge, but we finished mounting both tires in an hour and a half. This was the first set of tires they have changed at Bargain Jim’s, by the way. I thought that was worthy of note.
It was raining when I left the shop, and traffic on Highway 55 was heavy. I wasn’t too worried about traction, because at 43 degrees F, nothing is going to freeze. But since these are new tires, I rode extra-cautiously, staying in the slow lane and not passing on the shoulder. Things were better on the side streets, with less traffic to worry about and more shelter from the wind and rain. These tires handle well in the wet, and they kind of “sing” when leaned into a curve.
When I got home, the shell of my jacket had to go into the dryer, but the liner was still dry. I threw the gloves in there too. Everything else had remained water-tight.
This morning it was winter for real. Twenty-two degrees and snowing hard. The road in front of my house had an inch of fresh snow over a layer of ice from the frozen rain. I dressed in the full ensemble: Snowmobile boots, gloves, and bibs. Aerostich Kanetsu Airvantage electric vest with zip-on sleeves, and the Merona wool balaclava. Tourmaster Cortech textile jacket with body armor and Thinsulate® liner, and finally my HJC CL14 snowmobile helmet. Waddling out to the garage like a NASA astronaut, I proceeded to ready the Red Baron for our first “real” winter commute. First, I let some air out of the tires, till the pressure gauge said 24psi. I checked the oil: full. I twisted the throttle twice to prime the carb, and pushed the electric start. Putter-putter-putter… The Baron settled into a nice steady idle.
We had no trouble dealing with the fresh snow, and even the ice in most places was textured enough where we could get some traction. It got a little sketchy near the intersections where cars stop and start, polishing the ice to a fine finish. There, we headed for the right side of the road, where we could still find some grip. This also helped put us out of the vector of cars sliding up behind us. Once again, where the traction was in doubt, I put my feet out to serve as outriggers. I did that a lot this morning.
But the cars were faring no better. Once, on East River Road, the oncoming traffic was snarled by a large, front-drive sedan which could not make it up the icy hill. The cars in our lane were sliding all over the place, trying to avoid collision going down the hill. The Baron and I hugged the right-hand curb and stayed out of their way. Surely you have seen this kind of scenario, on TV news reports of a blizzard somewhere. Cars and trucks, brakes locked, sliding down a hill by sheer force of gravity and lack of friction. We really had to tiptoe past this scene, and it held us up for awhile.
After the river roads, we started to encounter streets which had been sanded, and the going got much easier. It took us a total of an hour and a half to get to work, in some of the worst conditions I expect to ride through. In the truck, it would have taken another fifteen minutes, because I wouldn’t have been able to sneak past the clueless non-winter-drivers. Where do these people come from? Surely they didn’t learn to drive here. My guess is they came here from warmer climates for the higher paying jobs and the mythical Minnesota Nice ambience. Perhaps we should make these immigrants take a driving test on an ice rink before they are turned loose on our winter roads. Just a thought.