Chill Factor

06 December, 2005 Temperature: -6 degrees F

There is no other way to tell it, folks; it was COLD outside this morning. This was the thick, creeping cold which oozes all over you trying to find any crack or chink in your armor. This was bone-chilling, mind-numbing cold. At least it was while trying to ride a scooter twenty-six miles to work.

I was fine for the first five miles. But then we were rounding a corner, and sliding over a patch of ice, which prompted one of those athletic, motocross moments. This broke the seal momentarily on the facemask inside my helmet, and some moisture escaped, probably accompanied by some unprintable language. Well, this language proceded to print itself all over the inside of my visor anyway, in the form of ice-crystal hieroglyphs.

These sparkled magnificently in the light of the old-fashioned streetlamps along East River Road. But when a car came towards us, headlights blazing, I found I was squinting into a glaring kaliedoscope where the road surface used to be.

Blind and cold, becoming numb and dumb, I decided to stop for coffee at Dunn Brother’s, just over the Lake Street Bridge. It was warm and cozy in there, and after I peeled off several layers, I was able to get comfortable in front of the fireplace. I had parked the Red Baron just outside the window, so I could keep an eye on it, and so it would remind me that I couldn’t spend all morning sipping coffee in that comfy chair. When the tingling stopped in my extremities, and I was looking at the bottom of my cup, I started the laborious process of donning all my armor again. Time to go to work.

Again, everything was fine for the first five to seven miles. But then, my mind started wandering a little bit. It was hard to concentrate razor-sharp on the road ahead, as I usually do. The radio in my brain kept changing channels in the “seek” mode, hopping from one train-of-thought to another, trying to find one we could dance to. We came to a stopsign, and I pulled both brake levers like I always do, on dry pavement. On frozen, slippery planks, however, we went down like the NASDAQ when the tech bubble burst. Yes, this is the infamous plank road in front of the old mill museum and condos on West River Road. I always pay particular attention to the lack of traction here. But today was different.

As crashes go, this one was really minor. A bit of scuffing on the right side bodywork, and another bruise on my bad knee, which is held together by titanium screws. I got up, helped the Baron back onto his wheels, recited some more of that unprintable prose, and we continued on our way. I was very alert now, with adrenaline pumping through my veins, and quite aware that I had just met Mister Hypothermia.

Total caution ruled the rest of our ride. My visor had started to ice up again. I stopped at a gas station to thaw it out and warm up a bit. We made it to work without further incident. But it started me thinking…

Why did I taunt Old Man Winter in the past couple of entries? This is typical American bravado, in the same vein as “Let’s Roll!” and, “Bring It On!”. As a Marine, I should know better than that.

This is what happens when we become overconfident.

14 Responses to “Chill Factor”

  1. Tim Says:

    What kind of helmet are you wearing? I wonder if snowmobile helmets are any better than motorcycle helmets in cold weather. Be careful out there, good luck.

  2. mnscooter Says:

    Thanks for your concern, Tim.

    This is an HJC CL14. It is either a street or snowmobile helmet, depending on which visor it has. It is rated for both DOT and SNELL, plus something else. It fits me and my budget perfectly. But in really cold weather, any breath that escapes the face mask will instantly freeze on the visor. I am looking into ways to deal with that.

    Ride well,
    =gc=

  3. Eric Says:

    Gary,

    I’m thinking that the visor you are currently using is probably the street visor. It’s a single pane of shatter-resistant polycarbonate which is DOT (street) legal. The optional snowmobile visor is two panes of softer plastic. Unfortunately also not street legal, because the softer panes will shatter if you were to hit a bird or some such thing. Probably not a major concern though in the sub-arctic temperatures… But the dual panes resist fogging very well.

    Also, believe it or not, Rain-X applied to both sides of your lens will help a lot, and in some cases will completely keep it from fogging. Hope you find something that works for you, because I’ve found that vision is all that it’s advertised to be. I highly recommend it.

    By the way, the HJC CL-14 is the same helmet I use for snowmobiling. Good helmet, but make sure you keep that inner breath deflector adjusted well to fit your face. Although, if you bought it in street-helmet guise, I’ve found that they often don’t include the deflector. If not, I’d check into getting it. Attaches by velcro to the inside of the helmet.

    Good luck, and stay safe!

  4. mnscooter Says:

    Hey Eric,

    This is indeed the snowmobile version. I have one of each. Bob’s Cycle Supply “sponsored” me a Graphite Smoke version with the snowmobile visor and breath deflector for this project, along with the HJC snowmobile boots. If you haven’t checked them out yet (www.bobscycle.com), they are local, and their prices are better than Dennis Kirk for most things.

    Rain-X is one of the options I was considering.

    Thanks for writing.

    Ride well,
    =gc=

  5. Dick Aal Says:

    I can remember a winter in North Dakota that was 56 degrees below zero WITHOUT wind chill factor. I had the car in the garage with the headbolt heater plugged in, the battery out of the car and on a register in the house. I then walked to work. The snow squeaked as I walked and you could not make a snow ball. The snow just fell apart. I hope you don’t reach those conditions this year. Keep up the good work and I am really enjoying your trip. I am riding my Motorcycle almost every day here in California and it is only around 31-40 degrees most of the time with good traction. A piece of cake compared to your ride. Also being retired, I can sleep in If I want to.

  6. Mad Says:

    Glad your off wasn’t more serious! Do they make snow chains for scooters?

  7. Ron Johnston Says:

    You may need to keep an eye on your battery - I don’t know why, but after I (gently) laid down my Yamaha, the battery would not take a charge. The dealer said that was pretty common.

  8. cdog Says:

    look into the product “Fog Tech” it has been the best product i have found for long term low temp usage. the rain-X product does like plastic shields for Lunch! Rain-x did at one time made a plastic formula but i understand it is no longer available.
    stay warm.

  9. Mad Says:

    It’s true, I had a battery die after my bike fell over.

  10. Mike and Peggy Says:

    Getting interesting, isn’t it…LOL…You’re doing well though! Watch the black ice…

    MJC

  11. John D Hall Says:

    Gary, I’m not going to complane about my 35° here in Texas. I’m going to ride tomorrow (day off today) no matter what after reading what you are going through. Keep on going strong and keep warm.

  12. mnscooter Says:

    OK, let’s start with the battery. I too have had them go dead after losing fluid in a crash. That was the first thing I checked when I got home. No problem. Didn’t lose a drop, near as I can tell.

    Next: chains, ice screws, studs, etc. As I have said before, these are all options, but I am going to configure the bike for prevailing conditions. So far, the snow plows have done a great job of clearing the roads here in the Twin Cities. I would rather not insert pointed objects into pneumatic tires if I can help it, and tire chains would be downright clumsy on dry pavement.

    I have already proven that I can operate effectively on fresh snow, snow-over-ice, and cleared roads with some icy patches. I know how to identify black ice, and steer clear of it. The keys to all of this are mental acuity and proper riding technique. I now know what the first stages of hypothermia feel like, and will be more aware and cautious in the future.

    Thanks for the tip on Fog Tech, cdog. I will keep that in mind. I have improved the seal on my face mask with some adhesive foam stripping, and I think that might do the trick. If not, I may resort to chemicals.

    Ride well, (y’all)
    =gc=

  13. martin_j001 Says:

    Hey, glad your crash wasn’t worse. I was planning on riding all through the mild winder here in Atlanta, but managed to find a spot of black ice just two days ago in a turn and laid the bike down (a TGB 303r50 in my case). Luckily my safety gear did its job, but I don’t own real “riding” boots at all, and managed to fracture my ankle in 3 places. Its still unknown as to whether or not I’ll need surgery to repair it. Even with this, I’m glad it wasn’t worse for me. Keep up the safe riding, and good luck!

    Jeff

  14. Mad Says:

    Ouch! Get some decent boots man, I wouldn’t ride a yard without my armoured boots.

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