After riding all summer, this time of year provides a great respite from the Southern heat of Tennessee. It can get so hot here that the asphalt turns gooey and the heat goes right through your boots. Additionally, sitting in traffic with a Big-Twin engine between your legs can give you a bad case of money-butt – which your ever lovable Grey Beard Biker can assure you does not feel good!
While riding is more comfortable this time of year, there are certain intrinsic dangers which go along with cooler weather – namely deer and wet leaves. The danger of large wildlife is easily understood, but those of you who don’t ride probably have never thought of wet leaves as being dangerous. Let me tell you, when you are hammering through a big sweeping curve and hit a patch of wet leaves, it feels like you are riding over a plank suspended by marbles. Most of the time you will not lose traction, but other times you will feel the rear wheel start to slide or spin. Trust me, it is not fun.
Deer Are Everywhere!
I have been very fortunate to have ridden several 100 thousand miles, through all seasons, never colliding with a deer. That does not mean there have not been some very close calls. While deer will damage a cager’s car, they can easily kill you if you are on two wheels with your knees in the breeze. If you see a big doe crossing the road this time of year, there is a very good chance it is being followed closely by a buck – one who is feeling quite amorous about the deer of the fairer sex you just saw crossing your path.
When you encounter deer on the road while riding, you must avoid taking evasive action while at speed – which for most people is an instinctive reflex when a dangerous situation arises and they are behind the wheel. Steady braking is the key – even if you are in a sweeping curve. If you can slow your scooter down, you can then take more evasive action to either swerve around the deer – or just stop. To do so at full speed you will either end up in the ditch or the other lane – neither of which will be a pleasant experience!
If you talk to a grizzled old biker like me, over an ice cold beer, you may well hear them tell you to nail the throttle and hit the deer head on. While in theory, this might make sense, lowering your closing speed is the better choice. The reason these old grizzled bikers say this is because hitting the deer head on provides you a much better likelihood of staying upright. A glancing blow inevitably will cause you to go down – and most likely not in your lane. The additional danger this poses is getting hit by oncoming traffic or going off the road into trees, a field (if you’re lucky) or possibly a guardrail.
Unfortunately, you may have little opportunity to do anything. It may well happen so quickly that there is no chance for you to avoid the critter. Many people I have talked to never saw the deer and woke up flat on their back in the road!
Riding Through the Deer Gauntlet
So you may wonder why I titled this post “Lost Mojo or Due Caution?” It is because I ride every season. Living in this part of Tennessee a biker who is not bothered by the cold can ride literally year round. I say that I ride 50+ weeks per year, and unless the winter is especially bad, that is a true statement.
Over the past four years, I have had a very close friend go down in the mountains of northern Georgia when a deer jumped from an elevated grape vineyard and ran right between him and his windshield. If it had not been for the deer’s fur on his bike, no one would have known it was a deer that caused him to go down. He was quite bruised and had several broken ribs – and a beautiful Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail totaled. Last year, I had another friend total a brand new BMW when he hit a deer. He was only a few miles from home and had less than 200 miles on his bike. He ended up with a bruised spleen, major contusions and a concussion. One month later, he hit another deer on his Indian Scout. Both bikes ended up being totaled. About three weeks ago, another close biker brother, and blogger, hit a 12 point buck while running about 60 MPH down a two lane highway. The bikes behind him saw the big boy jump the fence right in front of him, and the instantaneous crash. Hank was downshifting and braking, but he was unable to avoid the deer. As Hank told it, “As I tried to avoid him, the last thing I remember was that ‘crunch’ of the front of my bike making contact. It’s a sound I will NEVER forget….I don’t remember much of anything after that.” Hank’s bike slid approximately 200 feet without him on it. While he had several broken ribs and a severe laceration on his head, we are fortunate that Hank is okay and lived to ride another day. And did I say his one year Harley-Davidson Ultra was totaled? It seems to be a common theme.
This leads me to the subject of this post. Us die hard bikers mean it when we say, “Live to ride, ride to live.” But this time of year, I sometimes feel like I have lost my touch – or mojo. I slow my entry speed into those tight sweeping corners – in case those wet leaves are just beyond my field of vision – or those three doe are crossing the road trailed by that big monster buck. However, slowing my entry speed does not mean I’m not seriously rolling into the throttle once I am in the curve and have a clear view through the sweeper. Just saying!
Today, I rode approximately 100 miles with my buddies, Jay and Craig. The route was through some serious boonies. While on this ride, we only saw one small deer in a field adjacent to our path of travel – most likely because of the 35 MPH wind gusts. Because I do some of my best thinking while riding, I pondered whether my slower entry speeds into these tight curves was because I was losing my “mojo.” It is not. It is because I am more cautious. I am constantly scanning the fields, woodlots and tree lines for moving deer.
Dress for the Slide – Not the Ride
Even on warmer days, during the fall and early winter, I always wear leather chaps, my heavy Fox Creek Leather jacket and gauntlet style gloves. If it is warm, I wear my unlined leather gloves. If it is cold, I wear my lined leather gauntlets. This is due to an abundance of caution. While I will wear a tank top and jeans during the summer, I always dress for the slide when the rut is on and the big bucks are looking for their next “hookup” with that cute doe. This gear will protect you from the nearly inevitable slide if you cannot avoid that starry eyed suitor chasing after his lady!
So if you are like Grey Beard, and out riding during this special time of year, it is okay to be cautious. In fact it is prudent. Scan the sides of the road for movement – especially where tree lines intersect your line of travel or woodlots are alongside harvested fields. Most importantly, slow your entry speeds into those ever enjoyable sweeping curves. You never know what may be lurking just out of your sight until you hear what Hank calls that “CRUNCH!”
Keep the shiny side up, brothers and sisters!