November Motorcycle Riding Tales

Back when I got my first motorcycle, I was frustrated by the short riding season where I grew up in far northern Wisconsin. Even though we had a snowmobile, I really still wanted to get some cold-weather motorcycling in, even when the snow was piling up, which happened sometimes as early as October. But usually snow came to stay by November.

One day I got the notion to roll that 1974 Honda CL200 out of my dad’s shed, fire it up and give the road a try. It was bitter cold—about five degrees above zero—and there was no ice on the road—just very hard packed snow. To my amazement, the Honda tracked, turned and stopped with surprising stability equipped with nothing more than its original equipment street tires.

November Cold Weather Riding
Even though it was just after noon when this image was taken, shadows were long at Dane County’s (WI) Brigham Park but the view was still spectacular.

Clad in the gear I had originally gotten for riding our single-cylinder Ski-doo snowmobile, I got in an hour or two of joyous putzing around on our long driveway. I would learn later that when the temperature was up around 32 to 34 degrees and the snow was wet and hard-packed, traction is much more treacherous.

These days I live about five and-a-half hours drive time south of the old homestead and that much geography makes a bid difference. Winter here comes about a month later and leaves a month earlier. That said, getting any really decent riding weather in November is a very uncertain thing, even here.

Last year, November turned out to be pretty spectacular as we related in a piece called “November to Remember.” The weather for much of the month was sunny, unusually warm and down-right hospitable for getting some riding in.

This year, the first three weeks of November in southern Wisconsin were more in line with weather typical for the time of year: cold, wet, frosty, gloomy. Then came Thanksgiving and the three days into the weekend that followed. Sunny, temps above normal, including one day in the upper sixties and light to moderate winds. Each of those four days presented an opportunity for at least a little ride time.

November Motorcycle Riding tips
In the village of Ridgeway, WI, the old railway depot has been refurbished as part of a beautiful community park.

It was during these days that I noticed how different the November ride is from the midsummer peak of the riding season.

Maybe it’s just me, but I could swear a lot more people smile and wave at you from their yards, fields, tractors, side-by-sides and road vehicles as you ride by than in summer. Maybe it’s that they think it’s cool that you’re out there living your life, even though your fingers are getting a little numb. Or maybe they kind of pity you and feel that waving at you is the least they can do.

Then there’s deer season. Out here in the rolling farm country of southwestern Wisconsin lies some of the best whitetail deer habitat in the country. Wherever you ride, out in the fields, at the woodlot edges, you’ll see blobs of blaze orange—the mandatory high-viz color for hunting gear—reminding you that the state’s gun deer season is now in full swing.

You wonder if hunters out there will drive the deer off their beds and into the road—in front of you. Or, will the opposite happen; will the hunters clomping around move the deer into thick cover where they will bed down and watch the poor blaze orange blobs hike right past them ten feet away without seeing them? It’s a toss-up.

Turkeys are out in force, too. No-not that kind. Well they are out, too, but I mean real, wild turkeys. They hang out in the sunny open areas of the shorn corn fields hunting and pecking for kernels until they see you coming along. Never mind that the only way something bad can happen is if they make a break for cover across the road in the woods, no, that never enters their bird brains. They size you up and wait till disaster is almost certain then they make their move.

Winter Motorcycling
The terrific weather is highlighted in this shot of my 1985 Honda VF700 Magna parked near Leland pond in Leland, Wis.

On one of the rides in question this November, a group of four mature birds split on how best to harass me. Two ran across the road in front of me, while the other two launched an aerial attack flying across right in front of me at about head height as they tend to do. I managed to miss them all; no harm, no fowl. Pun intended.

Despite clear skies the sun sits so low in the southern sky now that shadows are long even at noon. Moisture condensed on the road surfaces lingers nearly all day in the shadows and in shaded corners you find yourself entering slowly just in case that shiny, wet pavement is actually slick.

That low sun means the riding day starts later than in summer and ends early. With Daylight Saving Time in effect, 3 p.m. light in November looks like 8 p.m. light in June. Day trips in November are as long as quarter-day trips in summer. Still, to be comfortable and out in the wind on the bike for even a few good hours in November is great and I won’t complain.

November Motorcycle Riding is Different - Yet Familiar
Insulated everything is the rule of the day for riding gear.

Even the motorcycles notice the difference in the air of November. The older bikes with carburetors seem particularly energized by the cold, dense air. The 1976 Honda CJ360 in my shed suddenly seemed to gain three or four horsepower as I punched it out on one of the back roads. It still wasn’t a superbike but once it was warmed up and quit coughing and stalling, it really ran great.

Of course, the gear worn for riding in air temps in the forties and fifties degree range is different—yet familiar for me. Just as I did in those impatient days up north, I threw on my snow gear. On the coolest days, I used a Bell Qualifier Snow helmet with dual lens heated face shield, insulated gloves, cold-weather insulated jacket (Icon Raiden Patrol jacket), insulated heavy duty jeans and boots.

Folks who stopped to talk to me along my rides usually said things like, “A little cool for a ride, ain’t it?” They would look surprised when I’d tell them, “Yep—and I love it.”