Friday, 15 March 2013

Riding My Motorbike in the Snow Part 2

In which it goes more wrong. 

In my last blog post I told of how I decided to make my way up a moor on an unploughed moor road. If you haven’t read it and intend to read this, you really ought to read that first so give me a click. If you are like minded, it may mitigate the lunacy of what I will cover below.

You see, one Monday morning, a little after 5am atop a moor, I arrived at my turning. Adrenaline was still pumping following the rubber-side-up moment I’d had a few hundred meters previously. The road descended gently and should have been less of a challenge than where I’d come from though the snow was all fresh, no tracks to follow. Thinking back, from where I was, it was probably the best available route to ride back down off the moor anyway. I’m pretty sure that’s not what my prehistoric brain was thinking though. That just wanted to fight through and finish the job.

Things started just fine. The V-twin motor on the Vstrom allows you to make a pretty slow descent just letting it tick over. The front wheel seemed to meet plenty of resistance with the snow as well and that helped me control speed. It helped that the road was straight.

Then I came to a dreaded snow drift and ground to a halt, stalling the bike. Somehow, I also managed to slip as I put my foot down. Once again, I found myself lying in the road feeling an utter twit. In a strange way, it mattered less that time though. I was beginning to accept that falling off was not going to do much more damage than we had already sustained, especially as they were both dead slow or stationary drops.

The problem was, having again heaved the stricken bike to its feet, this time, it didn’t start. Crumbs! (I actually said something else but, you know how it is.) In fact, it was behaving like a Suzuki VStrom or SV does if you don’t pull the clutch to start it. Quite possibly it’s a Suzuki thing. 

I was going nowhere without help and that’s what I pay the AA for. However, before I called them, I wanted to be sure I wasn’t missing something. My former life as a Armoured Vehicle Mechanic (not an especially good one) had taught me that too many break downs are driver error. One particularly memorable event saw me called out in the wee small hours, driving a rover blacked out through rough and muddy ground (wasn’t much cop with that either) to a non-starter. In that case it was a Challenger (i). Exhausted and cold, I climbed into the drivers compartment, removed his helmet from the gear selectors, placed it in neutral, pushed the started and woke up the neighbourhood.

When I climbed out of the compartment the driver asked, “What was wrong with it?” As I recall, I didn’t say anything. Just threw his helmet at him and drove off. He knew just as well as I do, Chally won’t start in gear. Then again, I’ve since learnt you make mistakes in the cold dark hours.

(Another similar event was a Chally with no drive. When you removed some or all of the gash that the driver was carefully storing under the handbrake leaver, it went surprisingly well.)

Not wanting to count myself amongst the cavalrymen I’d come to disrespect, I began to run though the checks. Am I pulling the clutch in? Yep. Check for neutral. Yep, that’s there.  Kill switch? That’s fine. What then? Seat off, I checked the various cables. In the cold light of dawn, I couldn’t see anything that should stop it cranking so I’d little choice but to call for recovery.

At that point I felt like a thoughtless moron. Thanks to my little adventure, some poor patrol driver was being dispatched up a moor in the snow, no doubt pulling him away from many other category B (see previous post) people who just need a quick tug off their drive and a boost. Poor chap was doubtless going to have a busy day as it was. There was however, nothing to be done but make the call and get the bike to somewhere a bit safer.

Did I mention there were two falls? This final one is a real doozy. You see, the Wee’s v-twin motor makes descents a doddle. It’s brakes, which are pretty much just brakes, they aren’t so easy in the snow. When I had the bright idea of sitting on the bike to coast it a bit further down the hill to a gate I didn’t consider that I hadn’t an engine to coast with. I’m pretty fortunate that that was the last misjudgement of the day.

I tried desperately to prevent the build-up of speed that had me travelling faster than I had for miles but it was no use. The gateway past and speed built up. I prayed that I could just keep it upright until the dip in the road, perhaps 200m ahead.

It didn’t happen though. A snow drift and incompetence saw me sliding beside the bike as I’ve done so many times before but usually with a cheep plastic sledge. I’d hit the ground hard this time. The grinding noises as the bike ploughed through soft, pristine snow to the significantly more abrasive black top, they hurt to. This was just getting silly. I lifted it back up one last time, carefully pushed it to the side of the road and removed my helmet, beaten by the snow. As I did so, for the first time since the the car in the ditch, I saw another vehicle. The Landrover cruised to a halt. “Are you waiting for the AA?” I explained that I was and the bike wouldn’t start. “Well, I’ve just seen him back in the village. He can’t get through, even with chains on.”

Well that was great and frankly, fair enough. Sure I’d got the bike there but a Transit was another thing all together. It didn’t make much difference anyway. Having ridden two particularly unreliable bike the last few years, I’ve learnt that all too often the first thing they say when they arrive is, “I don’t know anything about bikes. You’ll have to wait for a recovery truck.” One of them wasn’t likely to get up there for perhaps a day. My predicament was starting to look really quite bad. A phone call to the AA confirmed that they would be sending a local firm and their 4x4 vehicle me. No ETA.

There I was, stuck on a hill. Having food, coffee and excellent cloths for the conditions, I was safe at least. For about 45 minutes I kept myself busy check twitter, listening to and audio book and building a snow man. Eventually the AA rang me with an ETA a mere two and a half hours away. “You won’t mind if I hitch a ride to Otley then I guess.”
“Yes, the driver will call you when he’s ten minutes away,” came the obviously stock reply.
That wasn‘t going to work but I need a cooked breakfast and a cuppa. “It’s gonna take me longer than that to hitch a ride back again. Can’t you ask him to pick me up on his way through Otley?”
Another stock reply. “That would be against our policy but I will ask him to call you as soon as he is on his way.” I figured that would work.

It did to. Within minutes of the call I was sitting in the back of a farmers pick-up forcing the dog to share with his wife. They kindly dropped me off at Dunnies in Otley, home of 30p tea and breakfast for less than 3 quid. It wasn’t anything like two and a half hours before the local 4x4 recovery driver called. The bribe of a cup of tea was enough to get picked up from the cafe. Thus fed, watered and with adrenaline at an all time low, things were moving. Unsurprisingly, the guy didn’t, “know anything about bikes.” Turned out that wouldn’t matter. All we need was a rope and some daylight.

That’s enough story for one night though. It’s not the end of the story though. In part three I’ll get to the mechanical bits. I’ll get to;
  • The little, tiny, easily identified (in daylight) fault
  • Being towed
  • My awesome mechanic Alan at G.W. Johnson’s
  • What I should learn from it all.
  • Other stuff maybe.

Thanks for reading my post. Please leave a comment if you have time, just to let me know you were here and what you think, warts and all.


  1. Well, John, it looks like you had a bit of snow up there! I'm down in Hampshire where today it's mostly wet, as it has been for weeks and I'm just looking at the Inazuma outside my window with the rain just pouring down this lunchtime - at least the bike is under cover. The trick with riding a bike through snow is to not go in it! Snow may even be loaded with corrosive salt if they get round to gritting the roads this year. The V-Strom is a really good adventure bike (and it sounds like you had a good adventure!) but pretty torquey and one that I personally would not use in snow. Easter coming up is set to become a washout according to the news last night which at least is better than riding through snow to work. Hmmm... My plan for Spain this June is to cut through some of the really remote areas of the interior; the coastal route I did some years back was loaded with traffic but in the interior you might not see anybody for hours which will suit me fine. Still not sure about what weather I'll be encountering this June. It could go either way. Blazingly hot or more possibly, particularly riding off the Pyrenees into Spain, drizzly rain. By Zaragoza though, it should become warm and sunny. That's what I'm hoping for, anyway. Looking forward to your Part 3!

  2. We had snow today and I'm glad I left the bike at home. The bike wouldn't have got me to work today with the best will in the world. Wrong kind of snow don't you know. One adventure has been enough this year anyway.

    I'm making an effort to look after the bikes in our house but when it comes to keeping corrosive substances off my bike, the only real option is to ride my wife's.

    Part three is on the drawing board now. Glad you enjoyed reading so far. Seems these last few posts have brought me a lot of traffic. Tales of woe do that I suppose. I've enjoyed reflecting on it actually.

    Have fun on the road. What were you riding last time you did it?


  3. Black Suzuki GSX750F:

    The autovias I was on near Almeria were deserted in the heat of June/July and you could really get some mileage in. Mind you, stopping for juice for more than a minute or so in leathers and you started seriously melting! The tarmac in the service station was soft and bubbling from the heat and I had to watch the bike didn't flip when I moved off!

    Here's someone enjoying the solitude of winter riding:

    See you!

  4. Cool. Couldn't get that last link to give me anything mind. My brother wants to ride Spain with me. I'm not sure I could handle the weather personally. I hate heat.


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