Motorcycle Gear…Wear It!
Way back in 1974 I rode a friends Sportster from the Bronx, NY to Key West, FL. I made the trip in two and a half days. Here’s the dumb part. I left NY at the end of February. Wait, it gets worse. The day I left happened to be a sunny day with the temps in the mid 50’s. In my mind, I figured spring was here. So, when my friend, who wisely drove his pickup to Florida called and said the temps in Key West were in the 80’s. “I need my bike down here. Can ya hook me up”?
At the time I had a 350cc Honda and I was anxious to take a long ride on my buddy’s new Sporty. Up to that point, I had only taken it around the block. So of course, without a 2nd thought, I said sure I can ride it down for you. The fact that I didn’t have any cold weather gear, never entered my mind. So, I put on a ski jacket, a sweat shirt, jeans, my work boots, a ¾ helmet, my best brown cotton work gloves, and I was good to go. I filled a knapsack with some shorts and a couple of t-shirts to wear in Key West.
Though the mid 50’s temps were a little cool as I left the Bronx at the break of noon, I figured since I’d be heading south, it could only get warmer. Remember, there was no weather channel back then. In fact there wasn’t even any cable TV. Had I checked the local forecast on the news, I would have found out the short warm spell was over and that very night it would be in the 20’s. Not as if that would have stopped me. But maybe, I would have put a few more sweat shirts in that knapsack.
By the time I hit D.C. it had dipped into the 30’s. My face was frozen. My hands were completely numb despite the fact that I alternated putting one hand then the other on the cylinder heads. Since I hit D.C. at the height of the rush hour, traffic was bumper to bumper. The good news was at 3 MPH the wind chill wasn’t a factor. But since it was in the 30’s I was still freezing. I pulled into a rest stop and bought a newspaper which I stuffed into my sweat shirt and the thigh portion of my jeans. I then took my boots off and put them on the muffler to warm them up. Next I emptied the knapsack, put on another pair of socks and put a t-shirt over my head and around my face and made a hole for my eyes. Okay I thought. That’s better.
As I got back on 95 the traffic cleared a bit. I was hoping to make it to South Carolina before stopping for the night but somewhere around the Virginia border a state trooper pulled me over. He said I was weaving quite a bit and not keeping up with traffic. I now realize I was in the hypothermia but I didn’t know it then. The trooper must have noticed my shivering and teeth chattering and let me warm up in his car for a few minutes. He then had me follow him to a nearby motel where I spent the night trying desperately to get warm. The 1st part of my trip was a nightmare. The next morning I headed to a K-Mart. I bought a ski mask, 2 hooded sweat shirts, and a parka to put over my ski jacket. I also go a decent pair of gloves.
I still froze until I hit Orlando where the weather finally got into the 60’s. As the weather warmed and I started taking off some layers, I began to realize the Sportster wasn’t exactly a good long distance motorcycle. At any speed above 50 MPH it vibrated so bad my hands and feet became numb after an hour of riding. The seat was killing me as well. When I got to Key West and met with my friend, he said “You lucky dog. You got to ride all the way down here”. He then said, “But I’m riding it back. You can take the truck”. I of course quickly agreed. After hearing of my frozen adventure though, he decided to follow me on the bike through FL and the load it on the truck around the Georgia line. That’s exactly what we did.
Don’t be like some stupid kid on a Sportster in February. If you want to enjoy the ride in cold weather, get a full-faced helmet, some heated gloves, a heated jacket, thermal underwear, and even heated socks. Last but not least, get a bagger. You’ll need the extra storage. With the right gear you’ll avoid hypothermia and you’ll actually enjoy the ride.