Friday, January 23, 2009

Winter? What's That?

I have a sort of tradition, one of those things that's kind of stupid and obsessive-compulsive if you think about it too hard, but something I've managed to maintain anyway for twenty-nine years now: getting out for a motorcycle ride at least once in every month of the year. Most years it's not that much of a challenge; even in the Frozen North that is Chicago, there are several decent days in any given winter month.

Most years, I said. Some years are tougher. Like 2009: the temperature was in the 40s on December 30 of last year, started falling (along with some snow) on New Year's Eve, and in short order we were alternating sub-zero temperatures and heavy snowfall. I was beginning to wonder whether this was the year that my streak came to an end.

Luckily, there was One Good Day in the forecast: Thursday, the 22nd. While temperatures had been in the single digits and teens, the last few days had been mostly clear and sunny, which evaporated most of the snow and ice off the roads (leaving a nice layer of salt, but that's another matter). And the forecast high for Thursday was a positively tropical thirty-five degrees, so I made my plans to haul the nineteen-year-old Harley out of the garage and go for a spin.

Of course, starting a nineteen-year-old Harley that's been sitting in an unheated garage during a long cold snap ain't exactly an easy task. The Evo Big Twin motor is pretty cold-blooded and shows little enthusiasm for cranking, let alone actually running. So I decided on a more subtle approach: at eight in the morning I started up a thousand-watt radiant heater a few feet from the bike, aimed at the engine. Then, recalling how we used to get the old Dodge to start in cold weather back in my college days, I stuck a 100-watt drop light under the carburetor. Around noon, I decided to give her a try. Twist the throttle a couple times to prime the carb, push the button, crank (slowly), crank (slower), catch, sputter... stop. Try again. And again. About the fourth try I realized which step I'd left out of the preparations: pull out the choke, dude! One more try, this time with the choke on. Catch, sputter, sputter some more, run tentatively on one cylinder for a few seconds, and settle down to a fast idle. Hooray!

So there I was, sitting in the driveway next to the snowbanks (click on the picture at right to enlarge it) with the bike more or less warmed up, wondering just where to go. The wet spots, occasional patches of slush and general coating of salt on everything convinced me that this wasn't a good day to head for my favorite twisty backroads. So I contented myself with a ride across the straight, flat state highways, about twenty-five miles each way to Sycamore, where I stopped for about half an hour (oops, make that officially twenty-four minutes, because I only put two pennies in the meter) to warm up. Then, another twenty-five miles back, turning the old bagger's odometer over the Number Of A Hundred Beasts (66600). I even explored a couple roads with modest curves on the way back.

I actually saw one other insane person out on a bike. He had no windshield and no full-face helmet, and was bundled up like the Mummy (or somebody on his way to make an unscheduled withdrawal from the quickie-mart). We exchanged waves, the camaraderie of the lunatics.

Today dawned colder--mid twenties and dropping this afternoon, with an overcast and a prediction that the next several days will be cold, with a chance of snow. Yesterday may very well have been the only decent day for riding this month. Glad I took advantage of it.

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