Anyone who has ridden motorcycles long enough has met these dastardly “friends”. Because we are out in the weather and subject to the vagaries of Oklahoma’s fickle weather, we can start a ride in warm sunshine and end the ride with rain, hail, wind and even tornadoes.
Earlier this week I needed to go to Claremore to photograph some electrical utility lineman for Oklahoma Living Magazine. Like many motorcyclists, I prefer to ride than drive if all possible. It seemed like a nice day and I made my first mistake – I didn’t check the weather forecast. April 1 is can still be pretty nippy in the morning, but it looked like sunshine and I expected the weather to warm up quite nicely.
I got to my office and started to fire up my BMW R1200GS but WHAT? The battery was completely dead. No clicks, no lights, no electronics – nothing. I had just ridden it the previous week but looks like I left my key on and the battery was completely drained. I didn’t have time to charge it and I knew a bump start wouldn’t be enough to start and then run a high tech electronic bike like the GS with zero power. Still wanting to ride, I one of my favorite rides, my Suzuki DRZ-400S. It is a dirt bike mostly but I have rigged it for street use with a hand made pannier rack and some soft luggage. I tossed a camera and some lighting strobes in the saddle bags, threw on my helmet and jacket, and away I went.
The weather was a bit cold to start but not bad, plus I expected it to warm up as the sun rose. Not a cloud in the sky – a perfect day for a ride. I like to ride back roads and even dirt roads when I can, so I started out the back way from Edmond along mostly paved but secondary county roads, out through Wellston. Knowing I needed get moving to get to my photo shoot on time, and not wanting to ride the Turner Turnpike with its 75 mph speed limit on a DRZ, I jumped on the always fun Route 66. I have been down that road so many times I know it like the back of my hand. It was an enjoyable ride, even on the DRZ with a board hard dirt bike seat, no wind protection, no heated grips or vest.
About the time I got to Tulsa I noticed the weather had not gotten warmer – it had gotten COLDER! Dang, this was looking less like fun and I wasn’t dressed for cold weather riding. I had a great KLIM Lattitude jacket on but just jeans, boots, gloves and a thin riding shirt on under my jacket. Luckily I had chosen my full faced helmet instead of my open face that I often ride my DRZ with (the better to take pictures without removing your helmet).
I finally made it to Claremore but the temps were now hovering around 55 degrees – about 10 degrees colder than when I started. I got my work done – they were surprised to see a photographer show up on a dirt bike. I was done by 2:30 pm and ran back to Claremore to top off with gas (total fuel usage for entire trip = 6 gallons, about $21 round trip Edmond-Claremore-Edmond) and grab some food. My plan was to enjoy the ride back along dirt and gravel roads, secondary county roads, stop and take pictures along the way, and just enjoy the day riding.
Mr. Cold Weather joins me
But by now my friends had joined me. It seemed the temps were really dropping and the constant wind of 45-55 mph on a bike with zero wind protection was starting to drop my core temps. I stopped at Kohl’s and purchased an oversized fleece jacket on markdown for $5 to go under my riding jacket. That helped tremendously. But after a while your core body temp starts dropping and you get chilled and just can’t get warm again soon. I stopped a few spots along the way and took pictures of things and places that interested me, but now my mind was becoming more focused on how darn cold I was than one how much fun I was having. Those friends were getting close and comfortable now, making my back and neck ache, my body shiver, and carrying the fun away from the party.
Now Mr. Rain tags along
Just east of Cushing on Highway 33 I saw rain clouds ahead. Humm. That was going to suck. I could see clear skies to the south along what looked like the Turner Turnpike corridor. And it was just starting to get dark. So I pointed the DRZ south along a dirt road, bypassing Cushing and hoping to bypass the rain.
No luck. The cold rain caught up with me. Luckily not a downpour, but just steady rain that ranged from light to moderate. Of course on a bike even a light rain can get you wet pretty quick. I didn’t have any rain gear but luckily my KLIM jacket is totally waterproof. It kept my torso dry but my hands and legs go pretty wet.
Now imagine riding a dirt bike at speed at night in 48 degree temps – in the rain, on a dirt road, at dusk.
My friends cold, wet and uncomfortable were in full party mode!
I kept a steady lookout for deer. Those four legged creatures can ruin a nice bike ride real quick. I finally got past the rain and made it to Highway 18, which then led me south to Chandler, where I could catch 66 home to Edmond. By now it was fully good and dark and by the way, the light on a DRZ dirt bike really kind of sucks, especially on low beam. I shivered and shuddered the rest of the way home, mulling over in my brain the age old question they write country songs about – “what was I thinking?”
But still, riding my bike all day was fun. It was a challenge and was not comfortable for much of the day, but that comes with the territory at times when riding a motorcycle. You need to be ready to NOT have fun. But the pleasure and freedom of riding a motorcycle more than makes up for the not fun part.
I eventually made it home safe and sound. It took me a long hot shower and 4 hours under an electric blanket on high power to finally warm up and stop my teeth from chattering. A small price to pay for the freedom and fun of riding a motorcycle.