Thursday, June 21

Rides and Rain

June 16th weekend turned out to be mostly local riding. My total: around 125 miles tops. For the most part, the weather was gorgeous. It was my luck that the two times it rained—and it really rained—I was riding in it.

I attended a “Rocker” bike show on the near north side of Chicago. Johnny, the owner of Motorworks, invited me to the Saturday event. Attending a bike show got my attention immediately. Bikes of all periods, manufactured and homemade, and a diverse assortment of riders promised to make this a worthwhile event. The group ride feature, gave me pause. At the end of the show, the bikers would assemble and ride back to Motorworks for a complimentary Fish & Chips dinner. If you know nothing about me, know this: I have no conscious desire to ride with a group. The one and only time I’ve ridden with anyone, doesn’t really count because, we never had a chance, due to heavy traffic, to ride side-by-side. I’m truly solo.

For those who are in a club or who enjoy social riding, I say “Godspeed and more power to you.” I’ve tried to get into a group mindset once or twice before, imagining the group rumbling through the city or some small town. Let me tell you, just envisioning it elevates my blood pressure.

The bike show was fabulous! Motorcycles and scooters galore! Vintage bikes and new and experimental machines lined the streets. One could observe the evolution of motorcycle manufacturing and design. With many of the bikes segregated into country of origin, one could visually appreciate how the German, British, and Italian, for example, developed throughout their history.

A diverse crowd strolled along Lincoln Avenue for blocks to drool over the ‘cycles. The crowd ranged from rather conservative looking riders to some way out, free sprits donning tight black jeans and matching tee-shirts, chains, tattoos, and piercings, all co-existing for their shared motorcycle passion.

The day was hot and bright. By 3:30, however, the rains came. I hid under an awning until it subsided. At 4pm, the time the group ride was scheduled to begin, yet nothing appeared to be moving on that front. I left and once again avoided a group ride. The rainy ride home was cooling and the wait before riding prevented motoring on overly slippery streets. I was able to anticipate the few slick spots. Rain-riding demands a change in riding style and pace. The space cushion should be larger, stopping should be even more carefully controlled, and footing must be monitored. Stepping down on an slick spot can be unsettling (don’t ask me how I know this).

I arrived home with only enough time to change jackets. I needed to be 90 minutes south of where I was and it looked like I’d be lake. One golden rule I have for myself: No rushing on a motorcycle for it is far better to arrive late than not at all. I switched jackets four times, thinking that the rain was over and I didn’t need to ride with a multipurpose jacket. Alternatively, I could ride with a mesh jacket and take my rain over-jacket in case I needed it. I bet on the rain being over (I was wrong) and took a jacket that was only so-so when it comes to rain.
When I left, the sky seemed brighter and the rain clouds appeared to be swiftly moving away—actually they were but in the direction I was heading. With high humidity and barely a breeze, my mesh-leather jacket with perforation seemed perfect. Getting out of the city required extreme patience and I ignored what appeared to be epidemic rudeness in drivers. The snail’s pace was just long enough for the weather to change again. Forty minutes into the trip, the sky darkened considerably. The bumper-to-bumper traffic followed me out of the city. Not until I reached the Interstate did the traffic ease some. Ten miles from my destination, the sky opened. Within minutes, the interstate turned into a very ugly place.

Not only is a stretch of interstate under construction, with the usual construction hazards, people tend to ride on the Bishop Ford Expressway as if it is their personal Indy 500! Rain does not appear to deter bad driving behavior. It is one thing to exercise extreme caution when weather conditions are favorable, doing so when the weather is not, will make you a true believer if you’re not.

The rain was not normal. It whipped horizontally. I know they say it’s not good to ride in the rain those first 15 minutes or so. The rain needs time to wash away the oils and grease that have built up on the road. But I do not see a safe place to pull off. I keep the throttle steady but could feel the back tire wiggle a bit, indicating a momentary lost of traction now and again. Now I’m riding without the rain jacket on. My windshield needs to be wiped off every few seconds. As cars pass, I’m being splashed. Fortunately, I have on waterproof pants and the jacket, while decent, is only water resistant—that makes a difference.

I deal with conditions until the left and right hand lanes become flooded. I have only about ten miles to my destination. But things begin to deteriorate quickly. I see an overpass and hope that the underpass has a wide shoulder for me to pull over. As I approach it, I see that the shoulder leading to the underpass is flooded and littered with construction debris. I ease off the throttle and try to get into the right hand lane. Cars, obviously driven by people with a death wish, zoom by as if they do not notice the rain. I make my way to the underpass and leave the bike in neutral with the engine running. I become worried that someone will get target fixation, see me and crash into me. I sit there imagining being killed while sitting on a motorcycle NOT riding on a motorcycle. I weigh the dangers and decide that I will try to wait until the rain subsides. I turn my head to watch the traffic. I figure if I see a car aiming in my direction, I can move out of the way before impact.

I call the family to say I’m caught in the rain. The connection goes through but I can’t tell if I’m heard. I only hear a voice say, “Hello” a few times. My wait lasts 10 minutes. The rain does not appear to be stopping any time soon. I wipe off my visor, adjust my clothing and still forget to put on the rain jacket! I carefully pull out into the traffic and out of nowhere someone changes lanes and he is dang near hugging my rear tire. I try to forget about that and motor on.

The next ten miles are wet, uncomfortable and humbling. I arrive safely and enjoy great company and great food—both of which calm my frayed nerves and help me shelve the memory of the “adventurous” rainy ride.

Rain update: On Monday, I was caught in another rainstorm! I left the suburbs around 6pm, heading for the city. Huge rain difference. This was a gentle, steady rain—no blowing and whipping; also, I had on rain gear. Consequently, I was comfortable the entire 1 hour 15 minute ride. I settled in, relaxed and enjoyed the trip. The temperature was pleasant, the heavy traffic was going in the opposite direction and those traveling in my direction seemed saner than the weekend crowd did. I enjoyed the ride because I felt safe and snuggly inside my protective gear. I don’t like rain riding and I certainly don’t seek it out. But I need to be comfortable in it. Rain riding is one of those things that you can read about, but the only way truly to handle riding in it is to ride in it. I’m grateful for these recent opportunities to practice. Now, go away, rain. Please!