Have you been riding yet?
Don't let a little sand and gravel stop you.
by R. Bruce Thomas
I was in to the dentist near the end of March for my annual checkup and the two of us got talking about things, as one does when sitting in the chair. He told me about some of his mountaineering adventures and I regaled him with tales of the limited riding I'd done last year due to the installation of a new hip. Great fun!
There was a young woman in the office working on her internship as she neared the end of her schooling. Having heard the conversation, she confided in me that she rides – a Kawasaki 300 – and, just to emphasize her bona fides, her Dad “rides a gixxer”. I asked if she'd been out riding yet. No, they usually wait until the end of May when the roads have been cleaned. Does she have heated grips and a heated jacket liner? No. I suggested she should get those things to extend her riding season.
But, it was the 'waiting for the gravel to be gone' comment that struck me the most. Sadly, I hear from too many people that they wait until the sand and gravel have been cleaned off the roads before they start riding. Safety has to be a top priority but, if you're going to be able to ride confidently in less than perfect conditions, the last thing you should do is wait for bare and dry roads and perfect conditions since you never know when the road surface may turn ugly or the skies may open up when you are out for a ride.
Continually watching the road surface is something that should be part of your complete riding experience. Scan your gauges, check your mirrors, make note of all the vehicles that you can see, and keep an eye on the road – both close at hand and as far ahead as you can see to remove the element of surprise that sketchy surfaces could provide. If there is sand, gravel, garbage, metal plates, potholes, roadkill, tire carcasses, etc, on the road, your constant attention will alert you to these things in plenty of time to take appropriate action. For springtime sand and gravel you want to avoid sudden control inputs (smooth throttle, little or no braking, upright as much as possible) and keep your eyes up, looking where you want to go.
We've had some great weather so far and it would be a shame to skip a ride because of possible junk on the road. I don't recall my back lane getting swept and, while there is less mess than on the streets, it is still something I have to navigate before getting to clean roads. My street sometimes doesn't get swept until June. That's a lot of riding season gone. Plus, road construction takes the shine of many favorite destinations during prime riding season.
This past week, Monday April 25, I was joined by three friends for a Ride to Eat to Derwent. I plucked this destination from the GoEastOfEdmonton.com web site. The pizza was fantastic and I highly recommend it for a lunch ride. While the highways were clear, the streets in Derwent had patches of sand and gravel on them and I don't know when they get cleaned. It would be a shame to miss a great lunch for fear of messy roads. My buddy Don mentioned at lunch that all his dirt riding experience helps keep him safe on the roads when pavement gets messy.