Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey
Fall is a joyous time of year for riding. For a few short weeks, our favorite roads become tunnels of riotous color, the sunlight providing a marvelous glow to the trees. The milky humidity-filled skies have cleared to a perfect cobalt blue and the air has lost its heavy summer feel to a cool freshness that engages the senses and enlivens the soul.
But in this beauty is an increased amount of risk for riders. This is the time of year when riders begin to disappear from the streets and highways. Because you are now a rarer sight, drivers will be less inclined to take notice of you. During the summer, humidity tends to soften the sunlight. But in the fall, the humidity disappears, leaving the air perfectly clear. This means that for anyone facing the sun, now at a lower angle in the sky, the light will be very bright, even blinding. Remember this, especially when you ride with the sun to your back. People coming towards you will be dazzled by the light and you will be very likely invisible to them, especially when it’s time for them to turn left across your path. Riding with your high beam on just may give you a little more visibility.
The fall storms drop rain and bring strong winds, blowing foliage off the trees. Remember that wet leaves are very slick and in the cool air, roads will take longer to dry. And as you ride down into deep valleys, there just might be a bit of ice or frost on the pavement, especially in the morning.
Protecting yourself from the elements is crucial. Standing still, the air may feel perfectly comfortable. But as you ride, you are inducing a wind chill factor to the air temperature. 50 degrees may feel nice, but perhaps not so nice with a 50-, 60-, or 70-mile per hour wind blowing past you. Insulated gloves, socks, and boots will protect your extremities, and goggles or face shields will help to keep your eyes from tearing up. Adding a scarf, full-face stocking cap or a baklava will keep your face from a nasty case of wind burn. Fogging of those optics becomes a problem as your warm breath in the cool air condenses on the lenses. Use an anti-fogging solution on the inside and outside to keep the glass clear.
Sometimes this time of year will produce snowfall. Because the ground is still too warm, it will melt quickly. However, PennDot will be laying down sand and salt on the roads, so when the weather clears, be aware that there are places where you will encounter what amounts to patches of small ball bearings that will cause your wheels to slide out from under you.
Animals are active this time of year as they scurry around preparing for winter. Those times around sunrise and sunset are especially risky, because of the reduced visibility. One hint. Deer’s eyes are positioned more on the side of their head, and highly reflective. As they stand next to the road, the reflection of your headlight in their eyes may be the first hint that they are there. And as the rut season comes closer, they will become less interested in safety and more interested in the scent of that doe across six lanes of high-speed traffic. Think of a high school boy outside the girl’s locker room. Be alert.
Use these days to the max, and store those memories in your mind where you can recall them on those long, snowy winter nights when your spirit becomes restless and you yearn for the feel of the bike beneath you, the sun above you, and a wide open road before you.