Winter Motorcycling Rules, Florida Style
By Diane Tait
|Image courtesy flickr|
Living in Florida means never having to winterize my motorcycle. While the weather outside my office today is bitterly cold, I know in a few days the temperature will bounce back to the sixties or seventies. Of course, the extreme fluctuations of temperature make it difficult to decide what to wear when I ride, as do the potential for pop up rain showers and other hazards found on the road in January and February. With that in mind, I thought I’d take the time to acquaint all you snowbirds who brought their bikes along with them to the Sunshine State with ins and outs of winter cycling rules, Florida style.
What to wear? – Winter temperatures in Florida can vary by as much as forty degrees in twelve hours. Take tomorrow’s forecast with a low of thirty-four and an afternoon high of sixty-six degrees. That’s a thirty-two-degree swing. While a leather jacket will keep you toasty warm in the morning, by mid-afternoon you’ll be sweating bullets once you climb off your bike. Winter cycling in Florida means being prepared for temperature variations. That means you should pack a windbreaker for use later in the day. Just make sure you wear a helmet in the morning to keep your face and ears from freezing. If you want to stow it later in the afternoon, that’s up to you.
|Image courtesy Pikrepo|
The rain in Biscayne – If you haven’t ridden in Florida before, let me explain how quickly the weather can change. One minute it can be bone dry and the next thing you know you’re riding through a downpour. Two minutes later, the waterworks shut off only to resume three miles later. The reason the rain in Florida is schizophrenic is because it’s created by tropical waves emanating off the west coast. Since the winter weather pattern travels from west to east, when it gets to Florida, the atmosphere inhales moisture from the Gulf of Mexico which it then exhales as it passes from the panhandle to the peninsula. Unlike states a little further north, the precipitation south of Georgia almost always comes down in the form of rain. The last time it snowed even briefly in Jacksonville was way back in 1988. Since the Gulf runs all the way down the west coast of Florida, it can sometimes shed its load of rain all the way from Jacksonville to Miami, or it can produce intermittent waves of precipitation in selected areas. The best way to get a bead on winter driving conditions is to click on over to weather.com or do a web search for weather radar Florida to find the rain forecast for the area you plan on riding that day. And don’t forget to pack your rain gear unless you want to spend your vacation huddled under a bridge waiting for the wet stuff to pass.
Stay visible to stay safe? – Motorcycling under even the best of conditions during the winter in the Sunshine State is a perilous undertaking. That’s because most of the drivers you’ll share the road with aren’t from Florida. They’re from places like Battle Creek, Michigan, Toledo Ohio, Jersey City, or even Ontario, Canada. That means many motorists are more concerned with taking in the sites than keeping an eye on the road. Add to this the fact that Florida leads the nation in retirees whose eyesight, hearing and reflexes are impaired and you won’t so much be biking as running the gauntlet down I-95. As a result, the only way to safely cycle is to stay visible and keep alert for drivers who may suddenly slow down or cut across all three lanes to exit the highway.
Like it or not, motorcycles are hard to see unless they’re ridden in a pack. If you’re solo cycling, you need to give other motorists a lot more room than you think when its dry and two to three times that when it rains. It also helps if you wear bright colors. Studies have shown that the average motorist more often than not fails to see a motorcycle’s approach until the sound of their engine is heard. That’s because the profile of an approaching bike is 80% less than that of even a subcompact car. Add to it sightseeing by tourists and if you want to stay safe, you need to assume that drivers can’t see you. It also means when you decide to pass slower traffic you should expedite the maneuver to make sure someone doesn’t inadvertently cut you off.
|Image courtesy Minot AFB|
The gear down here? – Another thing you need to do once you and your bike reach Florida is to check your tire air pressure. If you’re bike has been trailered to the Sunshine State, chances are the temperature differential will cause the air in the tires to expand substantially. Overinflated tires can and do cause loss of traction, especially when the weather turns to rain. Before you fire up your bike, I’d recommend checking and adjusting its tire pressure to the factory recommendation. While you’re at it, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to give your ride a thorough inspection, especially if it hasn’t seen the road for months.
1. Tires should be checked for bulges, embedded objects, cracks and wear.
2. Wheels should be free of play and spokes should be straight and true.
3. Brakes should be tested independently to make sure that either can stop a bike’s forward progress.
4. Handlebars should be straight and easy to turn in either direction.
5. Throttle should turn freely without any hesitation.
6. Battery terminals should be clean and tight.
7. Headlights, taillight and turn signals should have no visible cracks and operate fully, including high beam.
8. All switches should function properly.
9. Check mirrors to make sure they are properly adjusted.
10. Check the levels of engine oil, gear oil, hydraulic fluid, coolant and fuel.
11. Engine check – Does the engine fire up right away? Does the engine sound right when you rev it up?
Believe it or not, a long ride on a trailer can take a lot out of a bike. That means it’s best to inspect and then take your motorcycle for a test ride before you head out on the open road. A ride around the block will give you a chance to check on the bike’s suspension, brakes and performance. It will let you know if anything needs to be attended to before you wind up stuck on the side of the interstate with traffic whizzing by when you realize your bike has a problem that you should have attended to earlier.
Diane Tait owns and operates A&B Insurance. To find out more about how you can save money on insurance, go to her site or fill out the form at right.