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A Vision in the Snow or Winter Riding: Points of Failure

I want to share this experience and say that on any other bike I wouldn't have even come close to what I did as I did on the Vision. The Visions stance on the highway and the finese it has enables the rider to go beyond the normal boundaries of riding a motorcycle. It is not to say that a Vision rider is invincible, it is that the thresholds of motorcycling are extended on the Vision beyond any other machine out there today. Despite that, after riding in a not properly anticipated snow storm I want to highlight the failures of the event to eduate not only myself but others who ride through the winter months. I hope this will help you be prepared in the event you encounter the same thing or to take an alternate form of transportation, perferably with ski's or at least four-wheels. Enjoy the read.

When riding in the winter time in regions that is prone to freezing and adverse weather there is many things to consider. I want to share a few things that I have learned recently when returning from a week-long trip to Georgia back to Virginia in the wake of a winter storm that blanketed the east coast from points in South Carolina northward. Timing is everything but sometimes weather is just not predictable. These points may be obvious to some but I hope that those who desire to push the limits of winter riding can learn from my experience. That experience was riding through about 27 miles of a snow storm, 9 miles of which the road was covered with snow and a few iced over bridges. The temperature had dropped below freezing and I was already committed to ride the storm out as long as the bike would keep carrying me. The highway was treated but the snow was falling faster than the chemical could react. As I look back over the experience I see 8 failures I have identified as to why I should not have taken the bike on this trip.

1) Riding: My mother is one of those mothers that do not like her children being on anything that is fun. Riding motorcycles, mini-bike, go-karts and having BB guns were out of the question growing up. She has the "you'll shoot your eye out, or that thing will kill you" mentality. I respected her wishes for the most part, only having ridden an occasional mini-bike or a Trail 50 before the age of 24. At 24 I bought two Honda 350 fours and thus began my desire to ride the bigger machines on ribbons of highways. I graduated from the 350 to a 750 and rode that for a few years before my riding days went dormant for about 17 years. I took up ridding the bigger machines and eventually purchased my Victory Vision, a machine well balanced and well suited for me. I mention this only as in the scheme of things my riding experience to tackle adverse winter weather is my first point of failure. Collectively I have well over 100,000 highway miles in a split seven year times frame, only having been back on the road now for about 4 years. In those four years I have logged over 98,000 miles, 62,000 being on the Vision in little more than two years. Riding time and mileage is no substitute for prudence and proper judgment when riding a motorcycle, so I count this as a point of failure.

2) Wintertime: Riding in the winter along the Mid-Atlantic States can be its own failure since this winter has seen its share of harsh weather, especially for riders. It is not predictable when and how things will happen that can cause an icy spot on the road when the days are close to freezing, either daytime temperatures or overnight lows. Just because there has not been any precipitation does not mean one will not encounter black ice. A good warm winter day will bring out people to wash their cars and the run-off can go across the road and still be wet at nightfall and turn to ice. Weather can turn at anytime as is the case with my trip. When I left Virginia to go to Georgia the weather was in the 40's at nightfall. The prediction for the week and on the Friday I would return had the temperatures in the 40 with some rain, for me not a concerning factor. After arriving in the peach state however, the weather prediction was for snow as soon as Friday evening back home in Virginia with the temperatures below freezing. The failure here is that I did not take into account that I would be over 400 miles from home for nearly a week, and a risk of dramatic weather change can exists in just a few days.

3) Machine: Riding in the winter calls to make sure your equipment is in tip-top shape, which really this is something that should be a year round concern. Good tires, engine running properly, all services performed, etc, etc. In my case I could have used a new front tire as it was at the wear bar limit. It was also time to change the air filter and plugs, though it was running well, the fuel mileage was down dramatically. But nothing to be worse in riding in the snow with bad tires and the motor coughing and choking. Another point of failure that said, "leave the bike at home and take the car".

4) Weather Forecast: If you think you must ride as I then it is prudent to check the weather forecast for the location and time frame you'll be riding, this is essential. I did check the weather forecast many days out and was even checking it just prior to leaving on that Sunday afternoon. Had common sense prevailed to begin with though, being wintertime the bike should have stayed home. After arriving in Georgia I checked the weather forecast daily and found the weather was turning for the worst by the weekend. A storm was moving in that would bring rain for the southern points of my route and snow at the time I would arrive back in Virginia. When I begin to track the weather the day of my return I did not check all points along the way. I was not taking into account that a few miles can make a difference when it comes to the weather. I checked the mid-way points and destination points, but I did not check the points in-between. If I had done a thorough weather check of the route I would have seen that just north of the midway point and some miles south of my destination I would have seen a winter storm warning for that stretch of highway during the time I would have been traveling through. Based off only the knowledge that I was looking for I would have been home well before the danger began, but only at the destination. The first indication I was heading into trouble was when I stopped for fuel just south of the danger zone where it was starting to flurry. My expectation was I would be in the flurry for a little while, after all this is North Carolina, Virginia is getting the hard snow later on tonight. This was a major point of failure in not knowing the expected weather along the way. This knowledge would have been enough not to embark on the trip on two wheels and either stay put or get an alternate mode of travel capable of hauling the bike.

5) Clothing Protection: I set out not being prepared for the weather to take a turn for the worst. I had expected the original forecast to stay as predicted, never going below 40 degrees but in less than a few days the prediction changed. In just a few hours it had changed and I had already arrived in Georgia. Having grown accustomed to cold weather riding as an everyday rider my tolerance has built up some and to me 40 degrees is tolerable if moderately dressed. However, freezing is still freezing and requires the proper clothing and the proper wear of the clothing to protect against injury from exposure. Even though the weather protection on the Vision is exceptional at freezing there is still a risk of hypothermia and even frostbite as there is still exposure to the elements. I was wearing pants with insulated chaps, thick wool socks and cold weather boots. I had on a long-sleeve T, a long sleeve shirt and a sweatshirt under my leather jacket. I also wear a leather neck-cuff and a bandana over the face. Though I got cold I never shivered or tightened up, which I attribute to the fact I was on my way home and I would stop when I was cold to warm up. Adrenaline kicked in during the snow and I felt warm through that time, but I was also moving at 40mph which is not as cold as moving along at 70mph. This was another major point of failure as I was not dressed for the below freezing weather.

6) State of Mind: Anytime you ride rest, nourishment and hydration are all very important factors. I had gotten up early Friday doing nearly a full day of "work" I was facing 7 - 8 hours of riding because I was ready to get home. I ate lunch and then stopped in Lumberton around 7:30 for a pork barbeque sandwich at Smithfield's BBQ and kept myself hydrated with a large unsweetened ice tea. When riding I do not like being up on a lot of caffeine and will make stops as often as needed to keep from getting zoned. This trip I was not having any issues with feeling tired. However, this was another point of failure as I might not have been as rested as I thought and should have abandoned this return trip home being that I would be back in Georgia Sunday night.

7) Traffic: Density of traffic can also be another point of failure in the winter time because you do not want to be around a lot of cars if you were to encounter a bad situation. Many times I will take the back roads to avoid a lot of traffic but in the event of adverse weather I would not want to be on an unfamiliar stretch of highway so the super slab was the way to go. Turning on the Hazard Flashers seemed to be the right thing to do even though when the snow began to fall, the traffic thinned out dramatically. I sure though that anyone approaching me would take one look at me and say "look honey, there's an idiot on a motorcycle and it is snowing." I'm sure people were calling me crazy and I heard one trucker on the CB say, "Now that's being too hard-core." Definitely this was a major failure point, but if you must, you must, just make sure you give yourself plenty of room to keep from getting in a worse situation.

8) Road Surface: This is also an important factor as in adverse weather you are still riding on the surface of something. Measure are often taken to put on chemicals to melt the snow and ice, but in a storm the rate of accumulation is faster than the chemical reaction and it gets to the point of little or no affect. Also, at freezing that melting snow turns to ice making matters worse than had there been no treatment at all. By the time I was committed the interstate turned to be my better bet. The two country road exits that I had encountered were not clear or treated. I did not know what I might have encountered if I got off on one of those exits, and trying to wheld a 900+ lb bike back around or trying to pick it up if it fell on the side road was just not an option for me. If I was to go down, I wanted to be where it would be easier to recover. Fortunately I did not have to find out what I would have done if I went down. Though the snow was falling fast and visibility was limited, on the interstate I did not feel the bike slipping at all except at one bridge. I have learned from reading and experience that the best you can do is "roll" across the ice by not decelerating or accelerating while on the ice. You want the rolling power of the motor to keep the gyro going, but yet coasting. It's hard to make sense out of this and I would only suggest you practice it when you have no choice as I have had to do. While on the interstate I stayed in the outside of the outside lane and had to stop twice to clean my windshield of the ice buildup. But regardless of how daring or how talented you are this was the worse point of failure of them all, being on less than ideal conditions on a highway. Had a driver not been paying attention they could have or would have slide into me no matter how careful I was. To prove that point there were about three cars in the 9 mile stretch that took to a guard rail or the ditch.

I recall seeing the first snowflakes I thought of another Vision rider that his bike is done in a "Star Trek" theme I wonder if he (Cometman) ever rode through snow yet at night on his Vision." The flakes coming at you through the reflection of the headlight remind me of the opening credits of Star Trek and the passing through the stars. As the snow got heavier it was also covering the road. I was listening to the CB and heard the south-bound truckers say that it started at the 150 mile marker and I was at the 122 heading north with no good place to exit. The lines on the road had faded away with the covering of the heavy and fast snow and the snow that had hit my windshield was freezing into a solid layer. I turned on my emergency flashers and pulled to the side of the road, only thinking of keeping the bike up as well as not sliding into the ditch I used my feet as runners until I came to a stop.

After cleaning my shield off I kicked around in the snow some to get an idea of its consistency. It was a fairly wet snow that was covering the road but it wasn't slush as the temperature was at or below freezing so I decided to give it another go. Easing back onto the road I minded my speed to not go over 50 mph and mostly stayed around 40 or 45 mph. When I came to the first bridge I slowed some and went across the bridge, feeling it slide just a little but the momentum keep it upright. Somewhere around the 127MM I was thinking I still got another 23 miles to go I was ready to stop and call another Vision rider (Trailbarge) who lived close to where I was. I wasn't sure if he had a trailer and I didn't want to abandon the bike on the side of the road so I pressed on. Along the way there were a few cars that had gone into the ditch and even one NEW mustang up against the guardrail and the guy out on his cell phone. I thought to myself that he had more money than he had sense. Then I thought "look at me, no money, no sense, at least he had one thing going for him." I continued to press on contending with a few more bridges and thinking that I'll never make it to the 150mm doing 40mph and I'm bound to go down somewhere.

Ice had built up again on the windshield and I needed to clean it off but then resorted to rising up a little in my seat and looking over. I could see the road path and stayed in my far right lane. I kept the hazard lights flashing hoping the little traffic that included trucks would see me well in advance and give me some room, thankfully they did. I even had a few pickups pass by and thought to myself "why don't they invite me to put the bike in the back and take me out of here"; but they kept on riding and so did I. Finally, around the 132MM the snow started to slack off some and I could see the white lines again. I had ridden through the worst stretch of highway in my life. I was able to speed it up some since I could see the road but when I got to the next bridge my heart stopped. However, I went across with no problem, though I had slowed some and let it roll across, it didn't feel slippery like the other one.

The road was like this into the 140s mile marker and by the 150 mile marker it was just a skiffed but the road was still wet from any previous heavy snow fall, but i was out of the worst of it. Around the 160 mile marker the road was dry and having only about another hour to go I was back to wide open riding.

When I told my story to other riders, one rider said they would have liked to have heard what the voices in my head were saying. I will say that my thoughts were rapidity going back and forth but never come up with a solution except ride on to see where this might take me. Then one strange voiced jumped in and said "you know you love it!"

I'm glad that I survived the whole ordeal and will never intentionally set out to do that again. But if I was to fall into the same situation again...well....

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