William Arthur Ward
It’s August in the Southern Highlands. I know that won’t come as a huge surprise to most of you, as I have it on good authority that it is also August elsewhere in the world, indeed, some would have you believe that it is August “all over the world”. Personally I’m sceptical, but let’s not get mired in my inability to accept consensus reality.
August in the Southern Highlands means one thing, and that is wind. Strong, blustery, relentless Westerly winds. Sometimes these winds can go on for days or weeks unabated. They have a tendancy to bring about the sudden demise of many of the regions trees, and are responsible for the rampant and random re-distribution of most anything that is not firmly tied down.
As a motorcyclist I am not a fan of windy weather. Great for kite flying, sailing, and milling grain, but for motorcycles windy days mean trouble. Of all the possible weather conditions that you can think of, for me, high wind is the worst, unless of course the strong winds come in conjunction with rain, hail, or snow. That of course is worser, or should that be worster, or worserer. Oh I’m getting sidetracked.
I remember well a trip many years ago from Canberra back to Sydney. My wife was new to the joys of being a long distance motorcycle pillion and I, in an effort to demonstrate to her the beauty of motorcycling, chose to ride home via Bungendore and Lake George. Those of you who know this area are already smiling and nodding aren’t you? Yes it is now the sight of Australia’s largest wind farm! It was a lovely ride from Canberra to Bungendore, stop for coffee, and then off to Goulburn. As soon as we cleared the lee of the hills just out of Bungendore the wind across the lake hit us like a wall. It was blowing perpendicular to our direction of travel, and was so strong that at times I had to lean the motorcycle into the wind at an angle that felt possitively unsettling for a 250kg motorcycle two up with luggage. The trip was exhausting, and at times terrifying. When we stopped at Goulburn my wife informed me that “under no circumstances was she getting back on that bike”, and if need be she would get a train or bus back to Sydney. A very long rest break, along with much pleading and cajoling on my part finally resulted in us finishing the trip, but it was sometime before she would deign to grace the pillion seat again.
Now that I search the hazy areas of my memory it has occured to me that my wife’s first ever trip as my pillion was from London to Edinburgh, and then back. The trip up was fabulous, plenty of time, lots of breaks, and one of our most memorable overnight stays. The trip back however was another one cursed by wind. We had to get back quick, having spent too much time swanning around Scotland enjoying ourselves. We rode from Biggar, just South of Edinburgh, all the way back to London in one hit, motorways all the way, with a strong sidewind to boot. Perhaps this goes some way to explaining her dislike of windy weather, and a flat refusal to ride if there is any chance of anything but “dead calm”. The above photo was taken before the windy return journey, hence the smiles still on our faces.
I certainly can’t blame her, and I suspect that most motorcyclists share a dislike of windy weather. It’s just so unpredictable, and it can turn an otherwise perfect ride into an exercise in stamina, determination and concentration.
It would be nice to be able to look out the window and decide whether to ride or not to ride based on the weather, but I don’t live in that universe, so when I need to go, I go regardless of the weather. I included the quote from William Arthur Ward at the start of this blog because it sums up nicely the difference your attitude towards things makes. For those of you who don’t know, Bill Ward is one of America’s most quoted writers of inspirational maxims. I’ve studied all of his writings in great detail, and if you haven’t read him you should really do yourself a favour. Or, maybe that’s a big lie, and I just typed “quotes about wind” into Google. You will all have to decide which it is.
So am I a pessimist, an optimist, or a realist? Well the honest answer is all three, sometimes. I change like………the wind.
If I am feeling pessimistic that’s bad, because it doesn’t help in any way. If I complain about it, even if it’s only complaining in my head, I’m just focusing on it and that is going to make me even more depressed and pessimistic, so it just becomes a downward spiral, and once it gets to that stage the only cure is pulling up on the side of the road, lying down in a ditch, and having a good sob. So I try to stay away from pessimism as much as possible. The best way I’ve found to do that is to stay away from pessimistic people. As soon as someone starts to complain to me about anything, I suddenly remember something vitally important I have to do. I also try to stay away from the media, because they are pessimism distilled into its deadliest form.
Optimism is good, I like optimism. Optimistic people are good too, I like them, I like to cuddle them. Sorry, I’m getting sidetracked again. For me, being optimistic about riding in the wind goes something like “wow, I’m really getting blown all over the road, and the sticks and rocks that keep getting blown onto the road really quite hurt sometimes, and that truck looks like it’s about to get blown over, but I’m really sure that as soon as I get over this next hill the wind is really going to die down, and it will be really calm for the rest of the trip”. And you know what, sometimes it works. Oh all right, it worked once. Usually it makes no freakin’ difference whatsoever.
So I guess that leaves realism. Damn it, I hate being a realist, it’s so….un-romantic. On the upside, it is the one that can actually make a difference to the situation.
Following is the realists 10 commandments for riding in the wind;
- Slow down, yes you will get to your destination later, but you’ve got a much higher chance of getting there. What’s your life worth?
- Extra focus is required when riding in excessively windy weather, so concentrate.
- Increase your buffer to the sides of your bike if possible, and increase your Crash Avoidance Space (the space between you and the vehicle you are following) from 3 seconds to 4 or 5.
- Stay low, reducing your surface area by hugging the tank can help, but it is not neccesarily the most comfortable position, and I find I often get a sore neck from trying to hold my head steady against the wind, so extra stops should be taken to allow you to stretch, refresh and prepare for the next section of riding. Of course if you are riding a Harley with ape-hangers your gonna act like the sail on a square rigger, not surprising really, because that is exactly what you look like.
- You will sometimes have to lean into the wind to keep the bike going straight, the stronger the wind the further you have to lean. This can be very precarious in blustery winds, you have to lean into the wind while it’s blowing, then quickly pick the bike up when the wind drops. To minimise this effect try to use your body weight rather than leaning the bike as much. Lean your body into the wind, then it is easier to quickly move back to centre when the wind drops.
- Expect debris to be blown onto the road, so watch for it, allow for it, and try to avoid hitting it. If you want to avoid hitting something on the road surface, don’t focus on it. See it with your eyes while your scanning, and then look past it. Once you’ve seen it, your brain knows where it is. If you keep focusing on it, your brain thinks that is where you want to go, so you hit it. See it then look past. I said it twice because it’s important. See it then look past it. That’s three. Do you get it yet? OK I’ll stop.
- Stay away from other vehicles, particularly big ones with large surface areas like trucks and vans. They are very prone to being blown from one side of the road to another, or sometimes blown right off their wheels. Stay away from caravans, do this regardless of the weather. People who feel it neccesary to take a miniature version of their house on holidays are rarely good drivers. I don’t have a grudge against caravans, in fact I am writing this in a caravan, it’s my office, on blocks in my backyard. That’s the best place for a caravan, and I still don’t like it when it’s windy. If you do need to overtake a vehicle don’t stay beside them any longer than you need to, so make sure their is plenty of space in front before overtaking.
- If riding in cooler months rug up well. Cold winds sap your body heat, so your body is working harder to keep warm, plus you are concentrating harder, and you are working harder physically to keep the bike up-right, so it all gets really exhausting. If you have wet weather gear put it on, even if it’s not raining. Wet weather gear is great for keeping wind-chill at bay.
- Stay home, make a coffee, and read a good book. It’s not often an option for me, but if it is for you, then don’t feel bad about taking it. You don’t have to prove anything to anyone.
- Buy a Goldwing. It is a well known fact that Goldwings are not affected by weather because they are so large they create their own weather patterns. That ones for you Texas Rambler.
So that’s it folks, all the advice I have to share, but remember these three important points; Pessimistic people are not good to cuddle, but they probably need one; Optimistic people are good to cuddle, but make sure you ask first; Realists are just realists, don’t hold it against us.
Stay safe, ride well, and keep the rubber on the road.
The Perpetual Motorcyclist