Sunday, December 18, 2005

"One swallow does not make a spring, nor does one fine day"—December 18, 2005

Aristotle sure knew about the weather. Today was a pleasant change from the run of weather we've been having recently. Bitterly cold a few days ago, then snow and sleet, then rain and gloom and sogginess. Today the sky was blue with few clouds, the sun bright though low in the firmament, and it was mild enough that a winter coat was more of an annoyance than a necessity.

Needless to say, this struck me as perfect riding weather. And one thing I am incredibly consistent with is underestimating how cold it is—every single time I gear up, I remind myself that I've never come back from a ride too warm, but can't count the times I've come back unable to locate one extremity or another. Well, today was no different.

Even worse, I was taking the Rockster out to blow the cobwebs off and keep a charge on the battery. While I confirmed the Rockster is virtually identical technically to Beast in performance and handling (with just a slight shift in the power curve) there is a crucial difference—the Rockster is currently unfaired except for the bulbous bodywork around the gas tank. (Yeah, I know—there's a nice Parabellum windscreen sitting in a box in the workshop, waiting to be installed...but I digress).

I headed out to my 'test track,' the web of roads I've made reference to several times before here. (Philip and I rode it when he was up over Thanksgiving, he on Campaigner and me on Beast) About a third of the way there, I noted that while most of the sky was clear and bright blue, there was a pale wash of high clouds intercepting the sun.

Hmm. I might as well have been riding under the hunter moon for all the warmth the sun gave. And since we are nearly at the solstice, the sun sat very low all afternoon—caught in the upper branches of the bare trees. While this is very poignantly photogenic, it has a perverse side effect: the relentless shadow strobing from the trees. It seemed no matter which direction I rode, one eye was constantly in shadow and the other was constantly flashing between brilliant sun and deep shade. I have heard that this can, at the right speed, produce a hypnotic, soporific effect; the flickering light induces a sympathetic response in the brain at alpha wave-frequencies, creating a nearly trance-like state of altered awareness.

Good damn thing I was so freaking cold by then; my only altered awareness was the lack of sensation in certain critical areas. I rode the loop, wrung out the Rockster as best I could while still in the break-in period, and headed for coffee stop #1. At one point, anticipating a bump in the road, I stood up on the foot-pegs—or attempted to, anyway. My legs and knees were so stiff and unresponsive that I had barely gotten my butt off the saddle before I hit the bump, and found myself at the point of maximum awkwardness. Oh well.

Coffee helped, a little. But I had reached a point that's in the neighborhood of hypothermia, which when you do it to an engine part is referred to as "cold soak." I was just a little bit too cold all over. Stupid trick #2: I've put a "cold kit" on Beast, which consists of odds and ends of clothing I can throw on for just such an occasion that are worth about 10 degrees improvement. But I wasn't riding Beast, was I? No, my emergency cold kit was safe and warm, at home.

The discomfort is temporary and merely an annoyance—a hot shower pretty much makes it go away in about ten minutes flat. But when you're cold soaked, you don't feel like turning your head to look at your mirrors, or check your blind spot when changing lanes, or look at your instruments to check your speed or a host of other little niceties--that's the stinky part. They say hypothermia affects your judgment, but before you get to that point, you just get lazy.

The really neat part was that there were a surprising number of bikes on the road, mostly oilhead beemers. Each and every one gave and got a hearty wave, secure in the knowledge that they were among the elite, hardcore who knew in their hearts that—

—it was really friggin' cold on the road today.

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