Most of us living in San Diego, CA get to ride whenever we want to. Heck, pretty much all of Southern California does not have to listen twice to the weather forecast before gearing up… it's 99.9% warm toasty sunshine seven days a week. We are sure spoiled compared to other states across America who have experienced severe snow storms and natural disasters. This year was particulary bad for our fellow riders on the East Coast. Imagine being stuck in your house – not able to ride your motorcycle, much less drive your car safetly!
A few weeks ago, I went on a group ride of about 12 sport bikes to Borrego Springs. It was a sunny, clear day in January (we don't have seasons in San Diego!). The route we chose was of course through back roads and scenic byways, one of which is called Banner Grade. Banner Grade leads cars up and down from Julian to the lower desert areas. Julian sees snow a few times a year, this is also when San Diegans all rush up to play and sled down the mountain slopes. The change in scenery consists of tall, thick oak and pine trees forming a dark forest, then slowly transitions into a gorgeous desert below.
This time, however great the weather was, there were remnants of a snow storm left behind on Banner Grade. When I say remnants, I mean gravel, sand and salt littering the roadway making it hazardous for both drivers and motorcyclists. We had to slow down to a crawl of about 20 miles per hour the entire way down the grade. Twice I felt the front tire slip a little, and my heart would skip a beat. My seasoned riding partner even said he felt like he was "walking on egg shells". (For my native Californians who aren't aware) Many times when there is a snow storm, the local highway department spreads salt onto the roads to melt it. As all the snow melts, water forms and dirt is washed over the road.
While you can't spend your whole day sweeping or using a leaf blower to clear the road, I do want to share some advice when riding over loose gravelly areas. First, when approaching, try going into the gravel head on, instead of at an angle or while turning. (I know, this is impossible on those famed twisty roads we all love, but at least try). Next, keep a light but firm grip on the handlebars and keep your center of gravity stable (no knee dragging!).
"Hugging" the tank with your knees will help you center yourself and feel your and the bike's weight as it moves. Do not go too fast and do not go too slow… read your bike and the road. When you need to slow down or stop, it is best to pull in the clutch or use the rear brake. Do not use the front brake! Your front tire needs some leeway going over gravel, as it will wobble. Just ride through the wobble. If comfortable, use your boots to skim over the gravel, you can put them down if you start to get too wobbly. Finally, when parking on loose sand or dirt, park it to where you wont struggle or slip when you get back on.
Some of this may have seemed like common sense, but when you live in Southern California, these weather riding tips tend to slip the mind. Afterall, we are so accustomed to having perfect mid-eighties temperatures year round, we never think twice about not having fresh, smooth roads to ride on. So, here's to living in America's Finest City! Stay up my friends.