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Common Tread

Five autumn hazards to watch for

Oct 26, 2015
“Autumn ... the year's last, loveliest smile."
― William Cullen Bryant

Many of us in the northern half of the United States are putting bikes up for the winter. Some of us still ride in spite of the change in season. Some of us do both.

If you’re in the “still riding” category, no doubt things are changing a bit for you. Fall riding can bring positively beautiful scenery that my less-adventurous brethren miss out on or it can make riding a drudgery to be avoided. Here are five particular fall hazards to remember.

Darkness falls early

Ride like it’s dark out, because it is. Especially since the Energy Policy Act of 2005 slid back the date we come off of Daylight Saving Time, you may find your normal commuting times are now quite dark. Adjust your speed accordingly.

fall temperatures
October 30, 2014. Fall weather can be treacherous. You can see the wet leaves and the snow, and the ambient temp was below freezing. Photo by Lemmy.

Crazy temperature swings

I’ve often experienced intraday temperature swings of 40 degrees here in the Northeast. The only way to deal with that is to layer up and be prepared to shuck or add layers as you go. If you’re a knucklehead like I am and get caught without the right gear in rapidly dropping temperatures, take a tip from the oldtimers: Stop at the nearest fuel station and stuff your jacket with crumpled newspaper. It sounds dumb and you’ll look like a stuffed spaceman, but it works. And for those of you whose engines aren't wrapped in Tupperware, grabbing your jugs at the stoplights is a toasty treat for your hands. It’s like a poor man’s heated grips.

Sex-drunk deer

There are about 1.2 million deer-vehicle crashes a year and they peak in November. Why? We’re pretty much in the midst of the rut. For those of you not intimately familiar with the term, the rut is the period coinciding with most of fall when North American deer wind up biologically sex-drunk. Your local Bambi and Faline are twitterpated, so to speak. They're thinking about one thing, and it's not avoiding you as you speed down the road. Don’t be a victim.

Traction reduction

cold tires
You're going to want to make sure those tires are warmed up a bit before you attack any curves. Photo by Lance Oliver.
Fallen leaves on the roadway have a nasty tendency to hold water, and even if the roadway is dry, a patch of wet leaves will put you on your ass right quick. Frost is an obvious hazard, but even on a clear, dry day, your tires are going to take a little bit longer to come up to temperature and get sticky.

Happy humans, distracted humans

With college football on Saturdays, pro games on Sundays even Monday Night Football, lots of folks are excited about The Big Game. That often involves tail-gating and drinking or having a beer or two more than normal down at the bar. The trouble starts when they wheel the Buick out of the lot. Also, as someone who once worked in a bar as a bouncer, I can tell you that Halloween is a drinkin’ holiday for a lot of people and the night before Thanksgiving is busier at most bars than St. Paddy’s Day. Stay alert for those around you who aren't.

fall riding
Just about everyone wants to get in one last ride before the weather turns. Photo by Lance Oliver.

Now, don’t take any of this to suggest that fall is a bad time of year. There’s not much in life that’s as satisfying as winding down a back road with colorful leaves blowing over the macadam. It makes me feel like I'm on the set of a luxury car commercial. Most bikes run well in the cooler weather, and heat from the engine turns from a foe to a welcome friend. Fall is prime ridin’ time.

Enjoy the fall. Do it on a motorcycle. Be safe and happy.