Shifting Gears into Autumn Riding Mode!

In case you didn’t notice, here in the Northeast we’re in for an amazingly spectacular, super fantastic run of early autumn weather over the next week. Seriously. Have you seen THIS?

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We can’t imagine why you wouldn’t want to take advantage and get out there and ride. But time is of the essence as, unfortunately, this sweet weather pattern is unlikely to go on indefinitely. And yes, it’s now officially Autumn.

Autumn is a great time for riding. Temperatures are often moderate and, in many parts of the land, beautiful color tours await. But the change in seasons also brings some different riding conditions that warrant some mental gear changes. Here are a few things that deserve some extra thought to as you head out for for a stunning fall ride.

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Reduced Daylight

You’ve probably noticed that dawn is arriving later, dusk much earlier, and those long shadows are hanging around for a greater portion of your day.. Especially if you are a year round rider or commuter, chances are increasing that you will be riding in darkness. You may want to make sure that your motorcycle gear (and bike) is up to the challenge. Is your bike’s charging system performing correctly? Are all your lights working? Maybe it’s time to think again about that auxiliary lighting you’ve been looking at all Summer. Do your riding jacket or pants have reflective strips or panels? If not, why? Time to upgrade perhaps? You’ve been riding all year with sunglasses. What about your nighttime vision? Is the prescription for your glasses or contact lenses up to date? Is your helmet visor clean and not all scratched up from another year of riding?

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Wildlife

As the leaves begin to change and the summer vegetation begins to die-off, deer, found virtually everywhere in North America (and in massive numbers here in Pennsylvania,) begin to change their feeding habits and become more mobile. Likewise, it’s their breeding season and that’s accompanied by an increasing frenzy of activity. In autumn, in many states, this is compounded by the fact of their being spooked by hunters. The end result is more random movement, more frenetic activity, and a greater threat to you as a motorcyclist. Shift gears and give more thought to the possibility of deer on the road – especially on the less traveled byways and during the hours around dawn and sunset . The same applies to areas where our even bigger antlered friends (Antelope, Elk, Moose) wander. Cover the brake and give increased heed to those “deer crossing” signs.

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“Bridge Freezes Before Road Surface”

We all know this sign or its cousins “Icy Conditions,” and “Bridge May Be Icy.” We’ve all scoffed at them throughout the warm weather riding season,. Now it’s time to take serious heed. We’re headed into the season where this warning can become very real. Very quickly. Look at that weather report above. Overnight temps in the 40s already, and frost warnings posted at the higher elevations not 100 miles from where I sit. Can freezing temps be far behind? Especially in late afternoon, or early evening, as air temperatures fall toward the freezing mark, the ground can and does retain a great deal of warmth. But bridges and overpasses, completely surrounded by the chilled air, may not. The absolute worst is in light drizzle with temperatures hovering right around 32 degrees. The roadway may be simply wet. Bridges can be far more challenging. And steel open grate bridges can be the most treacherous. Consider the possibility that it may simply be time to just go home! Also keep in mind that during the early morning hours underpasses can be treacherous when the sun warms the countryside but the underpass remains in the shade and overnight icing fails to melt. Caution is advised.

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Wet Leaves

Ice isn’t the only slip and fall threat. All those beautiful fall colors – the photogenic oranges, reds, and browns that cover the landscape eventually fall to the ground as winter begins to exert its hold. As often as not the leaves fall en mass as a rainstorm drives them from the trees and directly into your roadway! And wet leaves can be as slippery as ice! How do we protect ourselves? With the same methodologies we use to avoid nasty surprises like loose gravel or decreasing radius corners. Remember that it’s always heads up looking as far as possible into the turns and continue to practice what the Motorcycle Safety Foundation calls late apex cornering. You are less likely to run wide, have better visibility into the corner, and there is more margin for error if you simply practice braking a bit earlier, doing all your turning before the apex, and smoothly accelerating after the apex.

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Cooler Temperatures (OK. Maybe even cold!)

When the temperature dips, we all feel it. Between the lower temperatures and the wind chill associated with being out there in the air stream……well, you know. You can go from comfy to cold in a hurry and hypothermia is nothing to be laughed at. Cold hands, feet or other parts or the body are just as bad as a poorly fitting piece of gear – they cause discomfort which leads to a loss of focus and mental acuity. Wearing the appropriate base layers, mid layers, shell and potentially heated gear will greatly improve your chances for riding fun and safety. Also, take into account elevation changes on longer rides and make an extra effort to check the forecast in the cooler temp ranges as a little rain can produce much more extreme riding conditions quickly, than similar conditions at more reasonable temps. Maybe this is finally the year you move into the realm of heated gear.

Riding into the autumn and into early winter brings some new challenges but they are all manageable if we just mentally change gears and adapt. Do so and you’ll enjoy another great season of motorcycling and you can always beef up your cold weather riding gear  as well. Here’s hoping that everyone gets through the fall season without having to take evasive action on freezing roadways  or wet leaves to avoid a deer at sunset. Ride safe!

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