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Yeah, it was probably too cold to ride

December 9, 2007

It was after midnight, so I thanked Safety Ed for inviting me to his Hawaiian Xmas party and walked out to the driveway, where the PX was parked. It was cold. Cold enough, in fact, for a nice layer of frost to form on the PX.

I try to avoid riding when the temperature is below 35°F, because of the possibility of encountering black ice on spots that are colder. But this clear, cold night was preceded by a sunny Saturday morning and afternoon, with not a trace of moisture. It’s quite common in Seattle for rain or snow to be followed by daytime temperatures well above freezing and overnight lows cold enough to freeze the water on streets and sidewalks.

But not this day. We couldn’t have asked for better weather (well, it would’ve been nice if it were a bit warmer) for the Westenders Holiday Lights Ride, and while the turnout was small, everyone had a good time. By late afternoon, however, some of my riding buddies were feeling the effects of the low 40-degree temperatures and the 30-mph wind chill you get when riding a scooter.

As I’ve said before, the M65 parka with liner does a great job of keeping you surrounded with warm air, and I had prepared for the ride by wearing long thermal underwear and a thick sweater. I should probably invest in a Polar Buff, because my neck and face were cold in spite of wearing a regular Buff, though I was not really uncomfortable.

So it was just Ralph and me riding our scooters to Safety Ed’s, and Ralph had left a while earlier.

Safety Ed and I had found some really good Hawaiian beer, Kona Brewing Company’s Fire Rock pale ale. I had forgotten just how excruciatingly bitter most Seattle craft brews are; this stuff doesn’t cauterize the soft tissue in your mouth. You can taste it, and it’s quite tasty.

I’m not much of a drinker of alcoholic beverages. I enjoy wine with a good meal, and I drink beer because I like the taste (of some of them, anyway), but scotch and other hard booze tastes like paint thinner to me.

So much as I like Fire Rock, I nurse just one over the course of the evening, and finished it a couple of hours ago. There should be no question of impairment.

The street lights created a shiny reflection on the pavement, but Safety Ed lives on a side street. I just have to go a couple of blocks to a main drag, then it’ll be main drags all the way home.

The PX is being quite temperamental, apparently so cold it doesn’t want to idle for too long. Good thing it has an electric starter.

I head out, going not too fast, but not slowly. Straight and upright, you have the weight of the bike and you pressing the tires to the ground. While most people think it’s the 4-wheel drive that gets their SUVs through icky conditions, it’s really the knobby tires and 2½ tons of road-hugging weight. So a bit less than 500 lbs. on 3½” wide tires is nothing to sneeze at.

You’re most likely to dump your bike hitting a slick spot as you’re leaning over for a corner. The idea, therefore, is to lean as little as possible, which means taking the corner more slowly than you would if it were warm and dry.

As I thought, once on the main drag the pavement is not all shiny, and bone dry. The PX sure doesn’t want to idle… the engine dies as soon as I pull into the left-turn lane and stop for the red. It’s due for 12,000-mile service, anyway. A new spark plug would be a big help, I’m sure.

It also helps that there’s almost no traffic, and that the streets are well-lit. A slick spot should be easy to see, but since I’m going straight I hope there aren’t any.

I reach the Fremont Bridge, and so far the trip has been uneventful. The grate is a darker shade of steel gray in the middle of each lane; this would indicate the heat of cars’ engines and transmissions has melted ice and/or evaporated water. I go for the dark part, and I’m prepared to overshoot Florentia and make the right turn at Nickerson if need be.

But need didn’t be, I turned ever so slowly and even hit the green light. Before I knew it, the PX and I were in the basement. So under the right conditions, it is possible to ride when it’s below 35°F. But only if you’re careful. Favicon

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3 Comments
  1. December 10, 2007 11:14 am

    Our little band of scooter Geezer’s have a holiday lights ride planned for next weekend. KOMO is calling for a chance of snow again maybe Saturday, so who knows? I did get a chance to ride the Vespa in the snow a little bit yesterday, and like you said, when upright and even, no problem. Any lean though, she would kick out and squirrel a bit. It was a hoot though.
    Have fun,
    Bill

  2. December 10, 2007 1:47 pm

    Glad the Holiday Lights Ride went well. I’m sad to have missed it with my scoot still in the shop. Strangely, the Stella seems to like the cold air. I found some great cold weather waterproof gloves at REI that are for climbing glaciers in the rain! I pity the fools with a “riding season”. 🙂

  3. December 10, 2007 2:30 pm

    Kat, it’s not so strange that your Stella likes the cold air. Once the PX’s engine gets up to operating temperature, there’s a noticeable difference in the way it runs. Cool air is denser; when mixed with fuel, the result is a better burn, i.e., more power. When you don’t have a whole lotta power to start with, any increase makes a difference.

    As I say, as far as I’m concerned, riding season begins Jan. 1 and ends Dec. 31…

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