Kiski Junction Railroad, Pennsylvania, June 26th 2016.
I’d taken my family to ride this little railroad just the week before. On the road down I’d noted the last few miles would make a good bike ride, and so one week later I took my Ninja 300 there.
It was a boiling hot day, but a curiosity is how it’s the details of the bike’s life that stay with me: That chain was on its last legs, and had a tight spot I just could not massage out. The rear sprocket would soon be gone too, but the greatest recollection of all was the valve adjustment. just a few days later over the July 4th weekend, I tackled the valves. The diminutive Ninja had about 8000 miles on it; the recommended check was 7600; conventional wisdom on the Kawasaki Ninja 300 forum was to leave it to 15000, I did not want to leave it to chance.
It actually turned out to be a long undertaking, and the exhaust valves were indeed out of spec. I got the job done, and the bike still runs today. It remains the most complex thing I’ve done mechanically.
The joy of bike ownership, learning to do things you never thought you could.
Last year, we were blessed with winter staying almost entirely within bounds; a late December to February even, most severe in late January. This year the lake-effect weather system, resulting low temperatures (10F!!!) and snow started early.
I also got the seasonal man-cold a couple of weeks ago. Any medical professional recognises the seriousness of this condition, for those unfamiliar it is outlined in this documentary:
This coincided with the final November weekend which wasn’t utterly freezing, coincidentally the occasion I’d planned to weatherproof my bike. This involves taking the mid-fairings off (an utterly tedious job that entirely encourages my tendency to procrastinate) and drowning everything that isn’t a brake component in ACF-50. As this didn’t happen, I’ve been reluctant to use the bike much, so I’m just going to have to put on my big-boy pants and do it, even if it causes my extremities to shrivel up and drop off.
That being said, over the last weekend a couple of inches of snow fell, the local authority dumped its customary million tonnes of salt and sand everywhere, but it warmed and rained, and today felt almost like early March; not particularly cold, and very damp. Don’t worry though, by the end of the week it’s going to be utterly freezing, again.
I’d forgotten how much crap is on the road surface at times like this. It’s a godawful mix of mud and grit; occasionally very slippery, and I can hear it scrunching on my rotors every time I pull the brake lever at low speeds. Everything gets covered in this fine coating of brown mist that looks a bit like raw sewage. As usual, the most dangerous part of my commute are the hundred yards of road in my apartment plan, which despite the sterling efforts of the property managers, remains unusually slick in poor weather.
For the winter rider, I think this thawing condition is every bit as hazardous as black ice when freezing. In similar circumstances I nearly dropped the bike last January:
Smoothness is key, but if you’re going over, there’s not a lot you can do. It is also at these times I dislike the abrupt throttle transition on the Ninja 300; it can cut suddenly and unsettle the rear end.
So why do it?
For me it’s a mixture of practical and emotional. I really love riding, I love the challenge and discipline of it in difficult conditions. I desperately do not want to buy a second car; it’ll cost a fortune (as cars do) and I’ll resent it sitting there and devouring money I need while it’s barely used for most of the year. When the weather’s really severe, I take the family Toyota. It is a matter of enduring about 10-12 weeks. It’s not terrible.
Any other winter riders there? I know there’s a few. Share your experiences!
The weather has started it’s Autumnal swings. 36°F this morning. 36 is an interesting temperature for this rider, as last year I realised that is about the lowest I can tolerate without heated gloves. I don’t get numbness, just very sharp pain that I’m guessing precedes the numbness.
Of course, the afternoons are still too warm for a proper winter jacket, which is frustrating. Even with the full liner, balaclava, and sweater it is a little nippy, but will still be uncomfortably warm later. Also, the forecast is very warm (80°F, fuck yeah!) next week, so plenty of good riding left.
These last few days have got me thinking about wind protection more. I really like naked bikes but I’m wondering if they’d be good for my riding needs, if I had to have just one bike.
Next post will have idle speculation about what I want next. I thought I knew, or at least had a very good idea, but that seems to change weekly…
Predictably on the tails of my last entry, and because I am British, I’m going to moan about Winter. I live in Western Pennsylvania, and while it’s hardly Minnesota, it’s a somewhat harsher experience than my British homeland. The average January high for Pittsburgh is 37°F(US Climate Data, 2016); that is the average low temperature for January in my old hometown on England’s South coast(Met Office,2014).
The stats don’t tell the full story – it may be viciously cold when the sun goes down, but it’s usually tolerable for the morning commute, and crucially, usually quite dry, so there’s no frost to worry about, and a little less risk from ice.
What got me thinking about this is the last two days have seen cooler than average temperatures for my morning commute, around 50°F. I had to break out my waterproof mesh jacket liner (it traps heat), my Oxford neck warmer, and switch my Winter gloves for my thirteen-mile commute to work. I started to get that characteristic slight fogging of my face shield around the pinlock that the cold air causes.
There’s still a good four, maybe six weeks of good riding left for the normies; after that, the bikes get prepped for winter and put away, perhaps breaking them out on the odd sunny day, but generally, that’s it until April.
But not me.
Last October 19th, the morning temperature dropped to an unusually low 29°F. It would be the first time I had ridden in temperatures below freezing.
It was a rude awakening. The three mile stint on the highway caused my fingers to become, well, not quite numb, but extraordinarily painful. The wind blast forced its way past the gasket in my face shield, and hurt my eyes. My kneecaps hurt. I had real difficulty warming my gloved hands up again, and resorted to pressing them on the clutch and stator cover at traffic lights, which possibly gave the appearance I was attempting to mate with my bike.
I’d received a hard practical lesson in windchill, the theory of which I was only vaguely aware – this table tells the simple story, and it doesn’t even show figures above sixty mph.
I was a bit despondent as I’d already bought some expensive winter gloves, but I now knew with certainty they wouldn’t be enough. The problem was the highway. I’d need something heated, either grips on the bike, or my gloves, but that’s another blog entry…