Fall Motorcycle Riding Tips
September begins colorful fall motorcycle rides…along with some unique hazards.
As I write this, the first day of autumn is September 22, but in the far northern tier of states, the colors of fall are already beginning to show.
Even here in southern Wisconsin, some trees and shrubs prone to early colors are already transitioning from green to red, orange, yellow and tan.
That means the days are getting shorter, the mornings cooler and fall riding to take in the colors is close at hand. So, to help assure you won’t miss this special time of year for getting out there, here’s the Ultimate Motorcycling annual fall color ride planning reminder!
To help with getting the latest information on where the colors are reaching their peak, some state tourism agencies or departments of natural resources set up websites with the latest information on fall color status.
Following are a few travel sites for the Great Lakes region to get you started:
There are some things to keep in mind when planning your ride during this beautiful motorcycling season.
Have Adaptable Riding Gear
The weather in fall is transitional and subject to rather abrupt changes. Cool mornings can end up being warm, even hot afternoons, followed by chilly evenings. Having adaptable riding gear that allows for ventilation when you need it and none when you don’t is a great idea.
Armored mesh riding jackets with zip-out full liners are great as well as textile or leather riding jackets with closable vents are great for changing conditions. Leather or textile riding pants with similar features help maximize riding comfort as the weather conditions change.
A helmet that has closable vents is handy, as well. Don’t forget good, well-fitted gloves, riding boots and rain gear, too. Protection plus comfort equals a great combination.
Beware of Poor Visibility
One thing I’ve noticed in fall riding is that with the sun at a lower angle in the sky, shadows become longer, darker and occur earlier in the day in much more of the riding area than during mid-summer.
That not only contributes to cooler air along the way, but can cause poor visibility of road surfaces and hazards. This is particularly true if you wear dark sunglasses during the ride. Wearing only lightly tinted shades or a helmet with retractable sun shade or even photochromatic shield can help improve vision into those dark shadows.
Watch for More Active Wildlife
That leads up to another safety consideration that tends to be more of a concern for fall riding. Wildlife, particularly large animals tend to become more active in autumn and as a result, they tend to be encountered along roads more often as they move around during mating, migration or foraging.
Some animals such as whitetail deer can pose particular hazards as they may stand at the roadside, watch you approach and then decide to charge across in front of you at the last moment. If your riding glasses are so dark they make things in the shadows difficult to see, a deer in otherwise plain view may be all but invisible.
When you do see them, throttle down, cover your brake and be prepared to take evasive action or hard stopping. Check your rear-view, too to make sure a hard stop won’t result in a rear-end collision. There is no way to predict what wild animals such as deer or bear may do—they don’t know themselves until they do it.
Wild turkeys are another hazard with a style all their own. More than once, I’ve had a turkey blast from cover at the roadside and they always seem to fly directly in the path of your bike right at head height. Adult birds can weigh between 14 and 20 pounds in the wild, so hitting one on the fly could be like getting hit in the face with a bowling ball at 50+ miles per hour.
In farming areas when riding along fields being harvested, be particularly vigilant. I once had a trio of deer come barreling out of a corn field right in front of me, driven off their beds in the corn by a harvester.
They don’t even slow down at a road crossing under those circumstances, so taking it easy under those circumstances is a good idea. I didn’t hit any of them because I had already throttled down and had just enough room to brake so I missed the closest one by about three feet.
Visibility is Vital in Autumn Months
I’m a big fan of hi-viz colors and reflective materials for helmets and jackets due to the prevalence of shadows making a motorcyclist less visible to other drivers, as well.
Those other drivers who may have diminished ability to see a motorcyclist in the shadows, may also be less likely to spot a rider because they are also out gazing at the colors instead of the road ahead.
Keep your head on a swivel to see and avoid them and keep plenty of space between you and potentially distracted other drivers.
Beware of Traction Surprises
The shadows can have one other effect worth noting; on lightly traveled roads overnight frost or precipitation can linger on the road surfaces into the later part of the morning when all the other more open road areas are dry.
Frost can be as slick as ice and wet pavement offers less traction as well, so being alert to road conditions in the shadows when those conditions are present can help avoid nasty surprises.
Perhaps the best ideas of all: ride safe, slow down, enjoy the views and the splendor of autumn. And remember, the colors don’t last long, so plan that fall color ride!