Sometimes I question my own sanity

 

I find group riding exhilarating at times: maintaining comfortable distances and exit strategies still applies as if riding in normal traffic, courtesy and awareness of others is still paramount; but the group is more than traffic. The group is a collection of friends- a social unit with common interests and an unspoken duty of responsibility to one another. Every group is different and, being a collection of individuals, every ride with the same group differs slightly from the last. I’ve ridden in huge, roaring tight packs with bikies where members block oncoming traffic at intersections to maintain the continuity of the convoy. I’ve participated in rambling open scatterings of sportsbikes out for a weekend scratch. And then there are the organic, impromptu meetings of complete strangers which start with a nod or a wave and end, wordlessly in much the same manner. No one event is the same as any other but it’s always exhilarating.

Last month I took part in the inaugural Central Victorian HOG chapter’s Polar Run: a short expedition down the Calder from Harley Central to Calder Park.

Sounds like a bit of fun right?

What if I told you that it was kind of raining before we set out? And cold?

We agreed to meet at the dealership before leaving and it was reassuring to see the level of preparedness of the riders upon arriving. We all compared our wet weather gear and discussed the various merits of layering and waterproofing, anti-fog products, gloves, etc. etc. (should I mention battery operated heated vests?).

A total of seven brave, resilient souls had arrived by the planned departure time and we strode from the front doors of the shop with only slight trepidation to the assembly of bikes awaiting before us. The rain had eased promisingly to a light drizzle as our mounts barked to life and with curt nods and headchecks the group rolled out to the highway.

Speaking from my own perspective I was excited. Reminiscing an earlier wet weather jaunt on this very same stretch of road (see previous post), I was looking forward to an adventure. With the (only slightly scratched) visor of my full-faced lid partially cracked to avoid fogging and the heightened awareness that comes from riding with a less familiar crew I positioned myself conservatively behind the lead rider and wound on to match a comfortable pace.

“Not bad!” thought I.

“Not too cold, good pace, hardly even raining…”

I was contentedly burbling along amongst the collective burble of an exclusively V-twin pack with a little V-twin smirk creeping across my (mostly) dry face and I was thoroughly enjoying myself.

I think we were around Maldon when the precipitation decided to up its ante.

“Wow! that must be heavy- I can feel it coming through my jacket!” I thought to myself

“Uh- what position did you leave the jacket vents in?” Myself thought back.

“uuummm…” I started fumbling around with my free hand at my front to ascertain whether the air vents were indeed closed but could feel nothing through the two layers of gloves I was wearing, nor could I remember if the vent zips were supposed to be up or down when closed.

The inner turmoil caused by the unknown vent position was replaced almost immediately by the realisation that my jacket was probably a tad short. Said realisation spawned by a trickle of  the finest Victorian precipitation meandering down between my buttocks.

I may not be selling the concept of wet weather riding to you at this point in time, and I can understand that. To be honest with you, at this point in proceedings I was having a hard enough time selling it to myself. I would like to take this opportunity to stress the importance of selecting appropriate riding attire and familiarising yourself with its operation.

Thankfully the rain soon eased. I took time to lift my fogged visor to clear it and relaxed into the ride again. Apart from some minor hydroplaning incidents the remainder of the first leg of the journey was quite uneventful.

We arrived safely at the Calder Southbound Service area and as we peeled off sodden layers of gear and waited for one or two others to catch up were approached by a comparatively dry individual who had also recently arrived.

“Jesus, you blokes go alright!”

“Sorry mate?”

“When you come past us and it was pissin’ down- I said ‘That’s f#@kin’ hard!’- good on yas for havin’ a go!”

Fair enough. I don’t normally do silly things for the recognition it brings, but I’ll admit to accepting praise where it was due. It wasn’t easy: getting the best from yourself rarely is; but that short conversation with a total stranger reminded me that we had just faced a small challenge and endured it with fortitude.

After a brief respite filled with coffee and pleasant conversation, a dunny run and a quick fuel top up our group mobilised again for the return trip.

For those readers who are unaware, Calder southbound is appropriately named in that it can prove tricky going north from that side of the highway. It involves avoiding oncoming motorists in the southbound lanes, then avoiding more of them in the northbound lanes.

I know this, I am painfully aware of the fact that I will come off second best if I forget this process and I position myself accordingly. So I consider it a community service to address the panicked motorist who was travelling south that particular evening and perceived my actions to be some kind of threat to their person:

You, dear sir/madam, are a Knob-end.

If I had actually entered the lane you were travelling in and been unaware of the presence of roughly 500 kJ of kinetic energy about to co-occupy the space I was in I would have probably appreciated the blaring of your car horn to alert me of my impending doom.

But I hadn’t entered your lane, I was aware of your presence as well as the dire consequences of a potential collision. Your use of the cars horn was unwarranted and you are a Knob-end (note capitals).

The return leg of the trip was uneventful for the most part but the rain had stopped and the clouds had cleared which allowed the temperature to drop significantly. Being wet exacerbated the cold but, apart from this small discomfort, it was generally enjoyable.

Riding through Kangaroo Flat we spied a member of the local constabulary performing his duties by pulling over a driver. He saw us too and gave the group a slightly longer than cursory glance. I did wave but he must have been too preoccupied to return the gesture.

Our little adventure came to an end at a local pub in front of the fire where we once again enjoyed the sort of conversation that only seems to occur at the end of a motorcycle ride, and if you are unfamiliar with what those conversations entail I suggest that you take yourself riding in a group. You’ll find out soon enough.

 

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Wet, Wet, and Wetter

How about this weather eh?

You know- some of us don’t mind pitting ourselves against the elements: getting right in amongst mother nature’s gnarlier side. Sure, the human body is not made to operate effectively in extremes of temperature but with the right gear it’s still possible to get out there without risking hypothermia and some of the options available for today’s adventurous all-weather rider are  impressive to say the least.

I met some blokes at the last Harley Central Drag Day who had ridden through some of the filthiest Victorian weather to get there and, although they spoke of the ordeal in less than loving terms, there seemed to be an underlying part of the conversation which was laced with pride in their own resilience.

I remember riding Mum’s Indian Chieftain down to Ringwood last winter through similar weather- high winds, driving rain, standing water on the road. The experience of piloting a less familiar machine in less than favourable conditions was certainly a learning experience and was a great opportunity to practise a range of skills in an environment where they are needed. I was cold, wet and way out of my comfort zone and if you had asked me at the time how I was feeling I don’t believe I could have replied without swearing at least a dozen times. But I did it, I survived and came out the other side of the ordeal more confident in my abilities and I believe a better (albeit wetter) rider for it.

So next time you feel like a scoot on a quiet weekend but feel like you can’t in case the weather turns halfway through, I would suggest you reconsider. Grab some wet weather gear and wriggle into some thermal undies.

You might just find yourself smiling at the end.

 

Harley in the Rain