Muse3 - Winter riding by endemoniada_88

Grey Horizon (MPH MMIV)

So, winter riding: still a topical subject, particularly given the current cold snap we are experiencing. In fact, this is about as bad as it gets down here in the South: sub-zero temperatures all day long, anonymous grey cloud stretching to the horizon in all directions, morning frost thick enough to look like snowfall and the ever-present dangers of black ice and careless, frozen motorists.

Granted, it's a little more difficult to appreciate the joys of biking under such circumstances, but all-year-round means just that. Unless conditions are utterly hazardous, it's still better, faster and more fun to be rolling on two wheels. The only question, really, is which two?

It's long been one of my contentions that any bike can be an all-weather, all-purpose vehicle with the addition of four items of equipment – Scottoiler, crash protectors, sport rack and cargo net - and a can of WD40. It's worked on an awful lot of bikes over the years, during which time I've had to borrow something with four wheels or resort to public transport no more than a handful of times.

There are some obvious disadvantages to this basic approach, of course.

The first is cost and inconvenience if it should all go wrong. My first proper winter crash was carried out on a lovely, shiny '86 VFR750. Being on the young and foolish side, I looked at the rutted, part-melted ice and decided it would be fine. And so it was - until the first corner. Turning on to a shady side road had me sliding helplessly on a flawless, frozen sheet. Miraculously, I didn't fall off, but turning around was out of the question, so it seemed like a good idea to creep around the block, park up back at home and walk to work. Nearly made it, too...but the very last corner put me down on my ear, wrecked the fairing and my leg. And I still had to walk to work, not just that day but until the VFR was fixed - at great expense.

The second is that, although it can be done, it may not always be comfortable. I spent one winter on a harshly-throttled '96 Fireblade and another on an '01 GSXR1000 with a badly squared-off and largely-shot rear Pirelli. With both, when the frosts came, it was a job not to be highsided at every corner and sometimes, with immoderate use of the throttle, even in a straight line. Never actually got as far as falling off either, but the constant feeling of being about to did get a bit wearing on the nerves. Too much power for the conditions, really, even trying to keep it all smooth and progressive.

The third is cosmetic damage. Not that I have much in the way of mechanical or aesthetic sympathy, but when the salt and gravel are down in thick, damaging layers and every metal part on the bike is turning either brown or furry – and sometimes, both – it does leave me feeling a certain amount of guilt about maltreating my vehicle. Probably not a good plan, either, if intending to get top dollar on a trade-in at any point in the future.

There is a near-perfect solution to this, though: buy another bike, preferably of the genus known as "winter hack". Not least among the arguments for doing so is that will give you at least two bikes to mess around with – and that can only be a good thing.

Opinions vary considerably as to what constitutes a good hack: the answer, it would seem, is pretty much anything that a rider can get along with, bearing in mind it will deliberately be exposed to abuse in order to save a "proper" bike. It simplifies the purchasing process somewhat: style and desirability not an issue, cheapness and reliability definitely are. Not just cheap to purchase, either – there will be insurance, road tax, consumables and spares to think about. Best to pick something with a bit of weight and stability, a fairing or screen for weather protection, enough power to be interesting but not so much as to make it a real handful. Reliable electrics and cold-weather fuelling are a must - again, it will be called upon to perform in unpleasant conditions – and a simple, unburstable engine configuration is highly desirable.

In short, leave out the more exotic manufacturer experiments and pick any middleweight or above nineties Japanese motorcycle. It'll do the job.

That said, I've spent more winters without a second bike than with. That's probably because the vast majority of the bikes I've owned have actually been middleweight or above nineties Japanese motorcycles already out of the first flush of their youth. Generally, they haven't been unique or valuable enough to justify owning a spare and most of them have come through the grim months uncrashed and without too much environmental damage. Which does at least provide evidence for the theory that they are ideal bad-weather bikes.

For a change, though, I started the 2008 off-season with a new and still-shiny GSXR600 and wanted to keep it that way. An ideal opportunity to pick up a hack bike arose when a friend decided to sell his weatherbeaten and misfiring TDM850 at a knockdown price. A new coil, a couple of weekends in the garage tidying up and fettling and the TDM was good to go: fully otr for less than a grand. I'm not usually a big fan of twins – although my previous favourite hack was a similarly parallel twin GPZ500S – but the Yamaha makes a great winter ride. Spacious, stable, adequate weather protection and good visibility from the high saddle. Currently top of my personal recommended list, although I'm sure others will have different favourites.

Having reverted to type, the GSXR went a couple of months ago, to be replaced by another nineties big-bore supertanker (Suzuki RF900R, since you ask). Having wintered on an RF some years ago, they're more than up to the task all on their own, but the TDM still gets a lot of road time at the moment. Partly that's down to the completely different feel between the twin and the multi keeping it interesting, mainly it's because I don't really mind how much abuse the Yamaha gets. Come the spring I plan to take it apart and respray it all anyway: of course, if it ends up looking any good, I may need a third bike to hack for next winter...

So, if you want to ride the year around – and, as noted before, why wouldn't you? – it's just a case of getting the right tool for the job. And if that isn't the bike already in your garage, well, there are plenty of options out there that will cost less than the annual depreciation of your sunny Sunday hyperbike and give you an extra three months or more a year in the saddle rather than stuck in a small tin box inching slowly towards the grey horizon.

Go on, you know it makes sense...

Cold, wet and grey...Yamaha weather again


Trinidad said...

Finally, another blog like my own. In english!!!