Google+ Two-Wheeled Tourist: Five Motorcycle Problems that California Riders Won't Understand.


Five Motorcycle Problems that California Riders Won't Understand.

I write this piece as a native Californian and a transplant to Ohio.

It is difficult to describe many of the freedoms that motorcycle riders have in California as motorcycling is pretty much a seasonal, recreational activity in the Midwest.

For me, motorcycle riding back home was not just for fun (although it sure as heck is). It was my most economical method of transportation and my time saver. It allowed me to travel to far away places very cheaply and explore the world in a whole different way. Although I can still do that out here, I am challenged by three things: the unpredictability of weather, traffic laws, and the mentality of cagers.

So without further adieu, here are several things many native California motorcyclists (who have never ridden anywhere else) will not understand...

A typical November day in Ohio. Not to worry, it'll be 65°F and sunny tomorrow.

1. There is a riding "season."
There is a saying up here in NE Ohio: "If you don't like the weather up right now, just wait five minutes. It'll get worse."

Unlike the eternal summers (and occasional springs) of California, this part of the country experiences all four seasons plus road construction. Weather will always a be battle. You'll be riding out here constantly figuring out what jackets to wear, what gloves to bring along, and whether or not the waterproof boots are coming with you. And yes, sometimes it rains for no apparent reason without much warning.

And if you're one of those "fair-weather" riders in Ohio (i.e. those who will only ride on absolutely sunny days), enjoy your four hours of two-wheeled enjoyment. Being the more flexible rider I am, it is not difficult for me to put more miles on my bike in a week than most people will put on their rides in four years. Unfortunately out here, it's too easy of an accomplishment.

2. Battery chargers and fuel stabilizers will be a part of your toolbox, no matter how hardcore of a rider you are.
With the crappy weather comes the eventual snow and ice. For the more hardcore riders, cold is not an issue. However, frozen roads and bridges are a major safety threat. Depending on the year, the bike might have to sit long enough to need a battery charger and some fuel stabilizer until the world thaws off again. (On a side note, CTEK battery chargers and Star Tron Enzyme Fuel Treatment are my weapons of choice in this matter.)

We have to face the inevitability that motorcycles are incapable of ice skating without proper training. Okay fine, there are some exceptions to the rule, but I don't have a Yamaha R1 with ice studs that could double as drywall screws.

3. Lane-sharing and traffic filtering are frowned upon. There are drivers who hate motorcyclists so much that they are willing to go out of their way to injure you.
I'm not saying that there aren't people in California who want to do the same thing (there are psychopath drivers in all parts of the world), but there are a number of laws that penalize drivers who attempt to cause harm to another vehicle operator. Lane "splitting" or traffic filtering is an accepted practice out there while it's considered to be foreign and "just plain stupid" (I'm quoting a native Ohioan here) although the form factor and slim nature of a motorcycle chassis are obvious points to the contrary. I've even had people out here proudly declare their death threats to two-wheelers in front of me. The subject of the overall competency of Ohio car drivers is a subject for another blog post, but I do reserve the right to use my acquired California traffic avoidance skills to save my life. Side note: the sidewalk is a great exit route in certain situations.

4. Helmets and riding gear? What are those?
This is usually a subject of controversy whenever I mention the h-word. However, after selling hundreds of helmets over the years and seeing they good they have done first-hand, I cannot imagine my life without them.

The wearing of a DOT approve helmets is mandatory in the state of California. I have not argued against the law, mostly based on my experience in playing contact sports and that I have had to "road test" a helmet in two crashes in my motorcycle career. In Ohio, helmets are only mandatory for riders over the age of 18 who have more than one year of experience (that's not enforced as I'd like it to be) and what is only required is eye protection. In some cases, the eye protection part of the law has been followed to the letter that I have known riders to have been pulled over and cited for wearing a full-face helmet but riding with their faceshields up for ventilation. I am not kidding.

If I had to explain a standard point of view of many motorcyclists in Ohio on this topic, a UDF gas station attendant in Columbus, OH had the gall to tell me, after I rode in to fill up gas in 44°F on a fall evening, that a helmet was like "driving in a convertible with the top up." (Fortunately, his manager, a rider himself, proceeded to call him out for his stupidity.) I personally still stand by the fact that helmets are, at the minimum, functional pieces of equipment that do make the ride more comfortable. I'll take the flak for it. I've been called out as a "beginner rider" and "overdressed." I've been asked if "it's time to ski yet" based on the gear that I do wear day in and day out. When I want a permanent tattoo on myself, I'll pay for one and design it, not have the unforgiving asphalt do it for me.

Whatever you think about safety is up to you, but I'm wearing mine every time that bike's engine is turned on.

5. Heated gear is the best thing since sliced cheese.
At the time I'm writing this, Cleveland, OH is in a pretty good freeze while my hometown of Torrance, CA is in record heat with forest fire and poor air quality warnings. We have to try a lot harder to stay warm in early Spring and the Fall/Early Winter months. For those who want to prolong their riding season, a heated jacket liner, pant liner, or gloves are a necessary part of a motorcyclist's gear arsenal. That is, if you don't want to wear more layers of clothing than Randy from "A Christmas Story." (That movie was actually filmed here in NE Ohio.)

I didn't learn to appreciate heated gear until I moved out here, but for anyone that wants to pull off an epic, long-distance ride, it's an asset that adds to a rider's overall comfort and endurance.

I take pride in being that strange, California motorcyclist anomaly that just happens to live here. The uniqueness of the Californian's style of everyday riding has offered me a much greater appreciation for the two wheels that move us. I will ride when the roads are clear and have the bike ready to go at a moment's notice. For the rest of the country that doesn't get the warm monotony of the Golden State, a little creativity and a lot of determination can go a long way.