One day during my “learning season” of riding, my husband led us on a ride through a campground that we knew had some lakefront real estate on the far side. What we didn’t know was that the access to the river was done a steep, gravel hill – and not firm-packed dirt, but good loose rocks. Not wanting to appear to be a chicken, I loosened my grip on the bars (so I wouldn’t over-steer) and rode down the hill without complaint. It was an unexpected opportunity to address a particular circumstance, and I passed the test with flying colors.
Beginning riders usually have a lot of questions about how to handle specific riding situations, so here are a few tips for those times when a new experience is unavoidable.
Night-time riding – become extra aware of the road ahead. You should always be looking about 12 seconds down the road, even in daylight, but at night seeing farther ahead becomes critical so you spot any animals or anything like that along the highway. Additional lighting on your bike (such as a light bar) might also help you see and be seen. Finally, pack a pair of clear goggles or glasses in your for or saddle bag so you don’t get stuck wearing sun glasses at night. It worked for Corey Hart in the 80’s – it doesn’t work for you on the bike!
Windy conditions – Moving through the wind is always going to be a factor on the bike, but when gusts are strong or steady above 15 mph, it really gets noticable. Adding a windshield to the bike can prevent headwinds from hitting you hard in the chest and face, but what’s really critical is dealing with crosswind. When crosswinds are strong, it’s important to understand how passing traffic will affect the degree to which you are buffeted (moved around by) the wind. It can be pushing you hard to one side of the lane, but the moment a car or truck goes past you it takes away that force and you will get “tossed” quickly back to the other side of the lane. Experience is really the only way to learn how your bike responds and how much to compensate.
Tired butt – Most folks will complain that their butt hurts if they’ve been riding all day. But some bikes have really crappy stock seats that make even shorter rides uncomfortable. The problem could certainly be your riding position, so make sure the bike fits you in terms of handlebar reach and seat height. But also consider a new seat with a backrest or firmer foam. If that’s not practical, you may find yourself stopping more frequently just to get off the bike to walk around a bit. That’s okay too, you just have to figure the stops into your time schedule.
Rain – It’s gonna happen. Sooner or later you’re going to get caught in the rain, be it a light shower or an all-out downpour. If it gets to the point where visibility is limited, you should try to find a safe place to pull over. Try to pick a place where the bike will not be parked at an odd angle (like on the downward-sloped shoulder of a highway, or in mud). A rain suit is a smart bit of gear to keep with you; these days a quality suit can be very lightweight and can fold up to the size of a small clutch purse. And, if you don’t have a full-face helmet, you can fold and tie a bandana around your nose and chin, outlaw-style, to keep the “truck wash” off and the rain drops from stinging. Finally, remember that the first few minutes of a rainstorm are the most dangerous because the rain is getting the oil and road-gunk all wet, and making it even more slippery than the wet road might be after it all washes off.