by Victor Wanchena
With the return of spring, I am happy to report I survived another winter of riding. Given the easy start to this past winter, I really thrived, more than survived. My chosen bike for the frosty months, a Ural motorcycle sidecar combination, faired well over the winter. Only one mechanical glitch sidelined us for a few days; the dreaded intermittent electrical problem. After some head scratching, a little cursing, and finally referring to a wiring diagram, the problem was solved with 2-inches of electrical tape. The few days I was forced to drive on four wheels actually was a nice reminder of why I enjoy riding in the winter. By the time I got the Ural fixed I was quite antsy to get out; I guess absence does make the heart grow fonder.
The nice cold snap during January into February did test my preparedness and the quality of my riding gear. This got me thinking back to my first really cold ride. It was the early 90’s and I was pretty new to motorcycling. Living in St. Paul at the time, with little to no income. My place was furnished with cases of returnable beer bottles, empty of course, and a couch so hideous that it offended even my young bachelor sense of aesthetics. My lack of money also meant I couldn’t afford a car and a bike. The summer was warm and the riding was good, so a motorcycle was it. The economics of good mileage and cheap insurance only made me more secure in my decision. I gave little thought to the upcoming winter. I had read books and saw pictures of happy riders frolicking in the snow. Old-timers told stories about how they used to ride through the snow and cold like it was a summer parade. I listened in amazement and bought their stories hook, line, and sinker.
Well, fall came, as it always does, and the temps started to drop. One evening a friend called and invited me to stop by. Having nothing better to do, I thought an evening ride on a crisp fall night sounded good. The trip was a short hop; just 12 miles. I zipped the liner into my jacket and headed out the door. As I stepped outdoors I thought it felt cold; maybe 25 or 30 degrees, but how bad could those few miles be? The bike protested starting at such a low temp. After what seemed like an eternity, it was warmed enough for me to ride away.
The instant I pulled away the wind was cutting through my jeans. Only 12 miles. I took side streets to the freeway, but the wind was blowing and the cold had soon soaked through my light gloves and wimpy jacket liner. Only 12 miles. By mile 6, I had hit the freeway and already felt chilled to the bone, but kept repeating my mantra of “only 12 miles”. 3 miles of freeway were all I could take. I dove off on the nearest exit and took side streets the rest of the way.
I arrived stiff and shivering. I needed two shots of 170 proof Bahamian rum to replace my cold numbness with a warm indifference to my hypothermic state. I look back now and laugh. Adventure is often the absence of good planning. I have learned to keep the cold at bay and actually enjoy winter riding. As the years have passed I have learned from my mistakes and “adventures”.