Monday, May 27, 2013

Winning Half the Game of Motorcycle Safety

ninja 500r rain
Sash began to cry as marble-sized hail began to bounce off her hands and thighs as we rode down Highway 64 through New Mexico. But we were already well out of town and couldn't turn back. We kept our speed to about 40mph as chunks of ice fell from the sky and pinged off our helmets and leather jackets.

And for awhile, I wondered if I had the made the right decision to keep moving. I mean, I could see blue sky in the horizon, I knew if we kept moving we'd be out of the storm.

In fact, I had never wanted to stop in Cimarron the first place. Yet, Sash felt it necessary to put on rain gear. It wasn't really raining all that much at the time, and I knew if we kept moving we'd be out of it. But as she took the time put on her Frog Togg pants, the storm caught up to us.

"Look, it's hailing." I said.

She assumed we'd just stay put and wait it out.

But I was still of the mindset that if we kept moving, we'd be out of the storm. For some reason, I just didn't want to wait this out. Perhaps that little boy inside me wanted to prove a point, that we could have been in the clear if we didn't stop. Had my intellect stayed in control, we would have waited it out.

So off we rode, and Sash elected to ride too.

It was like a swarm of bees crashing into our helmets and jackets at 80mph, pinging and panging like a bucket of golf balls being poured on to a concrete floor.

Ice was hitting my hands as they held on to the handlebar grips, and they hurt, even just riding at 40mph. I was taking hits to the thighs as well. Those that hit my helmet or jacket didn't hurt, but still made as much noise, and I could still feel their impact.

About 5 minutes riding through the hail storm, I spotted three guys riding Harleys coming the other way. They didn't have helmets, and they didn't have gloves, and they were getting pelted as much as us.

And here, my intellect was kicking in, telling me what a dumb decision it was to ride in the hail, when I spot other riders toughing it out even more than Sash and I. Somehow, it justified my decision, and put the whole storm into perspective.

I mean, we have full face helmets, waterproof gloves, heavy leather jackets, rain pants, and steel toed waterproof boots. And yet, we're going to stand under an awning and wait it out? Then why the Hell did we buy all this gear if we're just going to be fair-weather riders? What kind of a six-month motorcycle trip is this? Where's the character-building?

"And I used to be afraid of riding in the rain", Sash told me later. "But after the hail stopped, I was relieved to just have rain."

Nothing like riding in hail to make you appreciate riding in the rain.

The same was true for me about riding on gravel. After my Honda ST was sloshing left and right over a muddy road in Alaska, I was ever so relieved when the road turned to gravel and I regained traction. And to think, there was time when I was afraid to ride my Harley on gravel.

Sash, after she conquered the hail storm.

And that's really what perspectives are about. Facts are meaningless without the human experience.

You can ride an 800 pound Harley-Davidson on a very tight-twisting road and feel overwhelmed by it, but later switch to a 375 pound Ninja 250 and find that it's piece a cake.

Life's experiences makes a huge difference too. You could have grown up taking great measures to avoid accidents, injuries, and illnesses, and then find yourself quite fearful of dropping a motorcycle. But you could have also grown up crashing your skateboard, crashing your bicycle, crashing your dirt bike, and not think anything of it to drop your Harley.

And so perspectives is why some of us wear a chartreuse yellow riding suit versus a black leather jacket. It's why we decide to ride in the hail versus waiting it out under a bridge. There is no right or wrong on what we do. Our perspective is what makes us feel safe about our decisions, and if we have that confidence in ourselves, then we've already won half the game of motorcycle safety.


  1. I'm glad you made it safely out of that hailstorm and now you have a new appreciation for rain.

    As human beings we do need to push ourselves to our limits - as long as we can handle those limits. If we didn't ride in the rain, or wind, or cold, or heat, or whatever else makes riding slightly uncomfortable we would always be in our cars.

    So how does a person know when it is the right time to pull over and wait out the weather? How can we as riders know when we have reached our limit?

    Just some thoughts.

    1. I suppose when the hail hurts too much, and the tires lose traction, that's when to pull over.

    2. You've reached your limit when you cannot bring yourself to lift your foot to take the next step.

      You don't know where that is before hand, you can only guess... but it's crystal clear when you get there.

    3. While I agree with the points your making I always figure it's best to check my mental state. Do I feel comfortable riding in this mess? If not, then I don't.

      Sometimes that means being wrong. Being the wimp under the awning. But I also know that 90% of the time I'm out in weather that others simply wont' ride in. That to me is the other half of motorcycle safety. Knowing your mental state.

  2. Steve:

    I don't purposely go looking for rain but if it rains on a bike trip, then that is what it is. I remember riding back from Oregon and it was over 8 hours of mostly heavy rain all the way back to BC. My boots were pools of water inside and I had to wring my socks out.

    A couple of years ago we were in Eastern Oregon in 100°F scorching heat and then it started to sprinkle. I never thought that I would be looking forward to rain but it was so refreshing

    Riding the Wet Coast

  3. There is something to be said for the sense of accomplishment after conquering that which has us a little scared. Whether it be riding on gravel, riding in the rain, or monstrous hail.

    Good job to both of you - even though you weren't scared or apprehensive.

  4. I'm one of those freaks who makes people roll their eyes and shake their heads with pity; when I pull into a gas station in a thundering rain giggling like an idiot.

    There's something about rain riding that lifts my spirit (I've been told "Counseling might help)... Hail? Not so much. At least a motorcycle don't buck you off in the hail, I've pushed cows horseback through hail near as big as a quarter... got a little bit "western" but fun? NOT the word I'd use.

    Keep it between the ditches!

  5. My perspective on riding in the rain and hail is a bit different than my hubs here. But he's right. I was never so relieved to see rain.

    My side of the story

    What's funny is, we both rode the same road at the same time, he was slightly ahead of me, yet we both had such different experiences. Isn't that something? How two people can see the same thing so differently? That's really some perspective, wouldn't you say, if you applied that to your entire life? If you have siblings that remember your mutual childhood very differently than you do, this concept really makes some sense.

    I learn something everyday on this trip and most of it has nothing to do with riding a motorcycle.

    Oh, and Trobairitz, I was just too pissed to be scared. HELL! It never occurred to me to be scared!! LOL!

    Smooches All,

  6. Really liked your post and agree with your view on perspectives and life experience. Every day we must weigh risks against benefits and decide - is it worth it? Someone told me once, "there is a thin line between courage and stupidity." Many times I have been on the stupid side of that line and somehow lived to tell about it. The Lord has been very forgiving of my many, many, foolish choices. Stay safe out there!

  7. I've ridden, over the years, in all kinds of conditions. I think ice is the very worst and then throw in some hail but only if caught in it. In youth we rode with no caution and that is how I wound up gashing my knee good on pavement with the bike on me sliding down the hill not far from my boyhood home. But even with all that, what worries me the most condition wise is not the wet but rather the dry loose sand or gravel in a curve. And you are right of course about riding in harsh conditions, harsh conditions make the others look so less threatening as your comfort level grows.

  8. I probably stopped and look for some shelter if this happened to me so I am glad that you made it out of that hailstorm safe. Can't imagine myself riding on my bike with ice crashing my helmet and such. Good thing you were properly equipped with safety gears unlike the other riders.


About Steve

A vagabond who hauls a motorcycle around the country in a toy hauler, earning a living as a website developer. Can often be found where there's free Wi-Fi, craft beer, and/or public nudity. (Read more...)