Frozen Butter?

30 December, 2005 Temperature: 30 degrees F

Well, THAT was exciting….

I rode on what seemed like frozen butter for about eight miles this morning. Both feet out the whole time, between fifteen and twenty miles per hour. That’s hard on the abs and groin muscles after awhile.

Don\'t try this at home...We got three inches of wet, heavy snow overnight, and I think half the snowplow drivers are on holiday vacation. That’s the only reason I can think of for the conditions on the sidestreets this morning. I didn’t take my normal route, because those roads were impassable on a scooter. Really, studs wouldn’t have helped much, because they wouldn’t have reached anything solid to bite into. Don’t talk to me about ice screws, that would be silly. Tire chains? Depends how much hassle they are. I know for sure I would have to remove the front fender.

It’s alright if you can just ride on virgin snow, because the wheels then have a sort of rudder effect, and you can give your legs a break once in awhile. But when you have ruts all over the place from cars and trucks, turning this way and that, it causes the wheels to deflect a little and unsettles your balance. So you have to keep those feet, with their heavy snowmobile boots, stuck out there to stabilize the ride. By the time I had reached Grand Avenue and Snelling, I had turned off the electric vest and opened the visor on my helmet, and still I was overheating. If I keep this up, my middle will go from keg to six-pack in no time!

So, my ride to work is 26.3 miles. I rode eight on the treacherous sidestreets. What happened to the other eighteen miles? Well, I did something that, at the beginning of this adventure, I said I wouldn’t do. I rode the freeways. From inside my helmet, sweating and cursing at the conditions on the sidestreets, it seemed like the only thing to do at the time.

Freeways are the only roads that get cleared, no matter what, in this kind of weather. I entered I-94 West at Snelling, and rode full-freaking-throttle in the right lane. Even though I was doing between 45 and 60 mph, everything out there was passing me, except the jerks who would pull right up on my back wheel and hit the high-beams. People feel so safe inside their little boxes, don’t they? What would they do if traffic came to a stop, and I dismounted my scooter to go have a little chat with them? Pee their pants, no doubt. Then reach for the gun in the glovebox, I suppose…

Well, the freeway is no place for a scooter in these conditions. The road spray was atrocious! I finally got to try out the Vee-Wipes that Aerostich sent me. This is a little windshield-wiper device that clamps to your thumb. When your visor gets obscured by spray, you just swipe it across and you have clear vision for a few seconds, and then you do it again. And again… It works well, but the conditions really were overwhelming this morning.

Speaking of things that work well, I am in awe of this little Baron scooter. Redline on this 150cc four-stroke engine is at 8,000 rpms. We spent most of our time on the freeway at or just slightly above that. At that speed, the motor sounds like a small turbine. There are harmonic resonances between the engine and the CVT drivetrain that just sing. We did this for eighteen miles, and when we pulled off the freeway, the Baron returned to his normal, mild-mannered self. Truly amazing.

My Aerostich Darien jacket and gear kept me warm and dry. The HJC snowmobile helmet and boots from Bob’s Cycle Supply did their job too. The Kenda tires were out of their depth, literally. But then they weren’t designed for this. They work very well in normal crappy conditions. I’ve got to plug my sponsors here, because on days like this, I really appreciate all their help.

But I don’t think I want to do that freeway thing again. It is no fun at all, and extremely dangerous to boot. Especially in the dark, with other vehicles suffering from the same road spray, and some of them with no blue juice for their windshield wipers. Looking at it from their perspective, I can see why my being out there pissed them off.

Well, they can have their freeway. I must find a way to cope on the sidestreets. Either leave home at four in the morning, and ride through the virgin snow, or wait until the plows have taken care of the roads along my route. Or take the car. How depressing.

7 Responses to “Frozen Butter?”

  1. Bob in SW Mpls suburbs Says:

    Great blog. I heard you on Garage Logic several weeks back and have been following your story since. Very cool. Makes a guy like me, who hasn’t ridden in years, think maybe it’s time to get back on the saddle…well, maybe in the spring, anyway.

    I was up late last night when it was snowing heavily. About 3 inches on the ground and the air thick with flakes about the size of Pringles. I wondered if you’d be out on the Baron today. Hey, man, be careful. It’s the OTHER guy you need to worry about. Happy New Year!

  2. Marc Says:

    This is great reading. Your descriptions of the motoring public are spot on and funny as hell too. It’s good to know I’m not the only rider still having fun. This fall I bought a 77′ GL1000 for winter riding. At first I was concerned how such a heavy bike would handle in sketchy road conditions but so far so good. It was tough finding a set of knobbies that fit, especially with it’s odd 17″ rear wheel. I’m also running 0W40 Mobile synthetic which helps significantly on cold startups. The constant problem of faceshield fogging was solved with an HJC snowmobile helmet with an electric shield, I’m not sure if it’s legal to wear for street use but I must say I don’t care, clear vision is pretty important when you are trying to pick a clear lane to put your tires. It’s great that the local media has taken an interest in your endeveor and you seem to be a good PR man for us winter two wheel commuters.

    Keep up the good writing, I will continue to check for your updates daily.

    Marc in Eau Claire, WI

  3. Tk Says:

    I was wondering how you did in today’s weather! Good post.

  4. Buster Brown Says:

    Two words: Ice screws.

  5. mnscooter Says:

    Thanks for your concern, Bob. Careful is a relative term, I guess. I try to exercise as much caution as I can, while still accomplishing the mission. The first day that conditions are just too much is going to be very difficult to take. It will feel like defeat, and I have a very strong aversion to that. But I have to remember that I have a family who depends on me.

    Great stuff, Marc! That is a very unexpected choice for a winter ride. Can you tell me what brand, model, and size of tires you are using? I like the heated visor idea. I will have to check with Bob’s Cycle Supply to see if they carry those. That would solve most of my cold weather limitations.

    I will be using the Mobil 0W40 on my oil change this weekend. I guess great minds think alike, huh? Thanks for writing.

    Hey Tk, I checked out your website… very, um, eclectic. I will have to go back and follow some of your links. Good stuff.

    Good old Buster Brown… still, I AM actually starting to think about this in a more serious way. It just seems like such an extreme, high-maintenance solution. Not only that, but it is a major PITA to take the rear wheel off this thing. I don’t mind exerting myself in riding the scooter, but I really don’t like major exertion in maintenance. It’s a character flaw, I’ll admit it. If I knew the majority of my riding was going to be in these conditions, I would do this in a heartbeat. But that hasn’t been the case so far. Stay tuned, and as always…

    Ride well,

  6. Marc Says:

    The front is a Bridgestone Trail Wing 101 100/90/19 and the rear is a Bridgestone Trail Wing 22 130/80/17. I opened up the rear tire a little with a grooving iron but the front is working fine as is. On my XR 650 I took a serrated knife and siped both front and rear and you wouldn’t believe how much of an improvement it made. Just try to think like the tire and use a combination of lateral, longitudinal, and angular cuts. Don’t go overboard or the tread will lose too much rigidity and the bike will handle terrible. I have a hunch screws/studs would be a disaster on dry pavement and suggest siping a set first to see how much that helps. By the way, I don’t ride the XR in winter anymore because the salt was killing it, besides the Wing has a lower center of gravity, a much lower seat height, and it’s unique. I had my dad rebuild the carbs and we made sure it ran right before expecting it to start in cold weather. So far I’ve been thumbing my nose at everyone who told me it wouldn’t run below 40 degrees. I understand completely the benefits of your scooter but I can hop on the Wing on a nice day and go for a serious highway ride, in fact I should really make a run up to Duluth and buy one of those fancy heated vests that everyone raves about. Also, it’s good to know you will give in and take the car if necessary. I don’t have a death wish either and will take my pickup on the really bad days. My boss would not have too much sympathy for me if I was out of work for several weeks getting fitted for a prosthesis after getting run over, not to mention all the “I told you so” comments.

    Ride on my fellow nutcase


  7. Bill Says:

    This is fantastic reading. Finally I’ve someone with a similar mind set. I’m in NJ and own both a Honda Shadow 1100 and a Honda Silver Wing Mega Scooter. And it’s the scooter I’ve been using for work throughout the winter here in NJ. I must admit though that I’m taking a more balanced approach to this whole idea of riding to and from work by scooter in the winter. My round trip each day is 50 miles. The coldest day so far was 12 degrees. But what with a heated vest, and insulated bib pants so far so good. I haven’t gotten cold yet. Especially since the scooter has a full fairing that completly protects my legs. However when the snow comes it’s the car. Been on ice once and that was enough. Maybe it’s because my scooter is a bit heavier, and I still have payments to make on it I’m not too keen on having it go down. But give me a fairly decent day, regardless of the temp and I’m on it. Hey, 48 mpg is a lot better than what the car gets. Well keep the shiny side up and I’ll look forward to reading more of your winter adventures.

    Bill in NJ

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