Danger Cold

19 December, 2005 Temperature: -8 degrees F

What a difference eleven degrees make.

On Saturday, when we rode to Wisconsin, it was three degrees Farenheit. That was cold, but quite manageable. This morning, the atmosphere felt dangerous. Walking out my front door was like stepping out of a spaceship onto another planet. I think it was a good bit more humid, because I saw some fog in the air around the streetlights. The fact that it was dark out when I left only added to the menacing illusion. Eight degrees below zero might just be Danger Cold.

My garage door was frozen shut. I had to beat and kick the thing to break it loose, and that boosted my respiration and heart rate up a notch. Then, after I had extricated the Baron from his cave, when I pushed the button to close the door, it only stopped for a split second, and then opened back up. The ice caked on the bottom was playing hell with the safety circuit. So I grabbed the shovel and scraped all the packed snow and ice off the bottom of the door, and off the floor where it seats. It went down and stayed closed the second time, but now I was perspiring underneath all my layers of cold weather gear.

The Baron started, but wouldn’t idle. I think the oil had thickened up a bit overnight, and I had to sit there and tweak the throttle to keep him running until he warmed up. Still, I have to say I am mightily impressed that this bargain-class, Chinese scooter is standing up to all of this cold weather abuse. I don’t think that a big-name-brand scooter could do any better. None of them are designed for this.

Every system on the scooter was complaining about the cold. The key locks and switches were sticky. The suspension was stiff, and the handlebars felt like I had a steering damper fitted up. Every dip and bump in the road elicited a creak or a groan from somewhere on the machine. I believe we approached the Baron’s operational limits this morning. Let’s call it minus ten degrees for a launch abort.

The first thing I realized as we rolled gingerly down the street, was that what looked like dry pavement was still quite slippery. The salt brine which had splattered us on warmer days was in fact frozen this morning. We wouldn’t get splashed, but we had precious little traction. It didn’t feel like fun at all.

Five miles or so down the road, all that sweat and heavy breathing caused frost to form on the inside of the visor. Oncoming cars with headlights blazing blinded me. I stopped in at the first gas station I came to, thawed out my helmet and wiped the visor. People inside pointedly ignored me as they went about their business. It was that “crazy-man” syndrome again. I left without a word.

Another seven miles down the road, and the frost was beginning to form again. Dunn Brothers to the rescue. I pulled into the coffee shop, and spent some time there drying out my balaclava and sipping hot cocoa. This was going to have to be one of those leisurely commutes.

After twenty minutes or so in front of the fireplace, I felt ready to go on. We rode the remaining fourteen miles to work with only minimal frost forming on the visor. We took Highway 55 again, but since the salt brine was frozen, we didn’t get splattered by other traffic. My feet were pretty cold by the time we arrived, but they weren’t numb. For once, I was happy to be at work.

It warmed up some, during the day. I went out and started the Baron during breaks, letting him run for five - ten minutes to charge the battery and keep the oil in a liquid state. By quitting time, it was thirteen degrees, well within our comfort zone. We had a nice, relaxed, and fun ride home.

What a difference twenty-one degrees make.

9 Responses to “Danger Cold”

  1. Steve Williams Says:

    -10 degree launch abort. Mine is around 15 degrees. At least until I have better clothes.

    Your description of the response of the scooter and the ride itself was a bit unsettling. Thank god you got to sip hot cocoa. Otherwise I would have gone to bed having riding nightmares.

    steve

  2. Buster Brown Says:

    It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity.

  3. Andy Says:

    I think you’ve got an oil change to something thinner due. I’ve got the same problems with my bike because I’m using 20W50, and it’s not very cooperative starting. You have a house, you should see if you could get the scooter parked somewhere inside where it’s warm. I’m sure that’d cure almost all you mechanical problems!

    I fell down a couple days ago and broke a brake lever. You gotta be really careful, but then again you CAN’T see that there’s oil under slush on the pavement until you’re laying in it’s stench on your side. Destroyed a pair of gloves and broke a brake lever for the second time.

    Keep it strong man, be safe and try not to get hurt. It’s really easy for something bad to happen out there.

  4. Mad Says:

    Wow. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the salt freeze here. I suspect I’d pull a “sicky” on a day that cold…

  5. Ron Johnston Says:

    It looks like you’ve reached the same conclusion as I have. -10 is my abort temperature as well. Once we get into that range, it sounds as if my bike is going to shatter everytime we hit a bump, and the “fun factor” approaches zero. Too bad, because I haven’t found the limit for my own cold riding tolerance yet.

    Its 15 degrees here today, which would normally be perfect for the ride, but we have freezing rain so I caved and drove the truck. My coworkers who’ve been ribbing me for riding are now calling me a coward. Unfortunately, this weeks forecast is for more of the same. If so, it’ll be the longest span since April (when I bought my scooter) that I have not rode to work. Oh well.

    You have to give the Chinese scooters their due. I have a 2004 Yamaha, and my wife has a 2005 Crono (Quingi Jiang). Allthough the fit and finish as well as general quality of materials are much better on the Yammy, her scooter still fires right up with the electric start even at these temps. The Yammy is kick start only once temperatures reach freezing, and the idle is all over the place until it warms up.

    Anyway, your blog is one of the high points of my day. Best of luck to you.

  6. Dave Eakin Says:

    Gary,

    Just caught on to your blog (from a Rider magazine link). Having read your previous stuff in MMM and following your cafe racer builds in the Vintage Jap email lists, this is way cool (no pun intended)! Definitely one of my “first things in the morning” now!

  7. JDEcho Says:

    I applaud you for riding a scooter escpecially in the winter. I have been a long time fan of scooters as an alternative source of transportation. I own a Honda CT 70 and usually ride when I can up until Feb. when the tabs expire. In fact I ride it to my daughters school every monday when I volunteer in her classroom and I also use it to run short errands close to home. I’m a stay at home dad who works only one day a week about 25 miles from home. I can’t even fathom riding my “scooter” to work. I have looked into upgrading to a freeway legal scooter but they are expensive. I’d like your impressions of the Baron scooter and the their outlook as far as reliability and service/parts availability. Does the scooter your riding have ABS brakes? If so how well do they work, I’m sure you’ve had ample opportunities to try them! I as many others have said look forward to reading your entries everyday. Ride safe, JDEcho

  8. mnscooter Says:

    Okay, from the top:

    Steve, one word: Nyquil.

    Buster, you said it.

    Andy, I’m using 5w30 Castrol GTX right now. I am going to switch to Mobil One 5wWhatever at the next oil change. I’m sorry to hear about your fall.
    I can’t park the scooter indoors, no room, and I would have to ride or walk it up the stairs. And yes, I’m being very careful. I have learned where the limits are, and I am riding within them.

    Mad, I was tempted, but I have a blog to write. Can’t write if I don’t ride. (Can’t write if I’m dead, either, but then it won’t matter.) I said I was going to try to find the limits without skidding past them, and I am doing that so far. Nothing too challenging in the longrange forecast. Just more fun, fun, fun until xmas!

    Hey Ron, where do you live? How far do you ride? I can only speak for the Baron Chinese scooters, and I am really impressed. The basic machine is quite robust, and the bodywork has held up remarkably well, minus the trunk. The motor, electrics, and brakes are working well despite being covered in road salt and filthy gunk. As soon as the temp climbs back above freezing this weekend, I am going to give it a good wash, and spray everything down with Pam cooking spray this time. It’s cheaper than WD40, and people tell me it works just as well. Do they make that in garlic flavor?

    Wow, Dave, thank you very much. You must stop now, or I will have to order a larger helmet.

    Welcome aboard, JDEcho. Let me tell you about the Baron… OH! Wait, that’s exactly what I am doing in the blog, isn’t it? But seriously, I am lucky in that I work only five miles away from the main Baron distributor, which is Bargain Jim’s in Plymouth, Minnesota. Baron is sponsoring the Minnesota Winter Scooter Commuter Project, so I get wonderful support every time I go there. However, reading their discussion board on their website, I find that others have been quite satisfied as well. When a problem does come up, Lev Mirman and the Baron crew do their utmost to make it right. I have been able to get any part I need from them immediately. YMMV, depending on your location.

    Now, ABS brakes? Hmmm… they certainly do lock on ice. As far as I can tell, there is no sensor system and hydraulic interrupt as in automotive applications. Honestly, when they say ABS in relation to scooters, I think they mean too weak to lock up on dry pavement, but I’m no expert. As far as scooter brakes go, these work as well as the big name brands that I have test-ridden. Thanks for posting, everybody.

    Ride well,
    =gc=

  9. Ron Johnston Says:

    Hi, Gary

    I live in Salmon Arm, BC, Canada. We are an isolated “temperate zone” between the Coastal and Rocky mountain ranges. Winters are short and temperatures rarely drop below 0 degrees F. We do get a lot of snow, however, which is already making getting the scooter out the side door of the carport a challenge - to use the main door I’d have to move the car. I like your comment about ABS - mine cannot lock the rear drum brake even in these semi-slick conditions.

    My only gripe with our chinese scooter is that like the Yamaha, much of the bodywork is interconnected with little plastic hooks and clips. But with the Quingi, when I have had to remove panels for service, some of these always end up breaking off, which results in the scooter being a lot more “rattley” in use. I have not had this problem with the Yamaha.

    35 degrees F when I left for work at 5 am this morning… a beautiful ride with most of my winter gear stowed in the trunk. Not bad for the first day of winter. My coldest rides (~3 deg F)were a month ago and starting to fade from my memory.

    Cheers,

    Ron

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