Sunday, 31 March 2013

Riding My Motorcycle in the Snow Part 3

In which I make it home, repair and reflect.

At the end of part two I had just been picked up. I missed an important bit out though. After I was dropped in Otley by a passing farmer and his wife, before I had breakfast, I had the presence of mind to call work and let them know I’d not be joining them that day. Then, I settled down to breakfast. Dunnie’s give you a lot of breakfast for just £2 or £3 but what you get is pretty dire. You get what you pay for and I couldn’t pay for breakfast in the kind of cafe that can brag about the butchers they use. For less than £3, you don’t feel sure what’s in the sausage never mind which high class family butcher it came from. For the first time in a very long time I found myself staring at bacon, sausage and egg unable to bring myself to eat it. Just for once, Dr Buckley would have approved of a lifestyle choice. And it was at just about that time that an email arrived making everything just a little less worthwhile.

Safely home and seemingly intact.
The email was to break a 25 year tradition. Our previous head, who had lead the school for a quarter of a century, didn’t drive. She never closed for snow and expected staff to get in if they could. Until then I had never failed either. Our new head, who I think comes under category c/d without the tyres (see this post), has a different mind. As the snow continued to fall, she closed the school, by email. My journey was now not only a failure but also unnecessary.

Spot the difference.
Good news soon followed. A man, tasked by the AA, called to let me know he was heading my way. I offered to get him a cup of tea if he picked me up on his way past and that was enough to get him to flout company policy. Another forty minutes and I was on my way back to the bike with a nice chap who had spent his morning jump starting cars or pulling them off drive ways. Mine was the first brake down as such. As usual, he was quick to tell me that he knew little or nothing about bikes. His car got down the hill to the bike with no problems even though the road was even worst now than it had been when I first came a cropper.

Within a minute of arriving at my stricken motorcycle I spotted the problem. I could have beaten myself senseless for not looking for it earlier. Back then I didn’t spot it because it was too dark. If I had looked for it though, I would have found it for sure. You see, I mentioned in my last post that the bike wouldn’t crank at all, just as though I had forgotten to pull the clutch in (required on a DL650). I didn’t mention that the bike fell on it’s left side. Nor had I mentioned that it was the clutch side of the handlebars I had to use to lift it. The problem was so obvious, I reckon many or most will now have guessed it. In broad daylight, the clutch interlock cable hanging below the clutch lever was plain to see. With it back in place, the bike started and ran instantly. The only remaining problem was the road, now totally impassable to anything without four wheel drive.

Alan's simple repair to the gear lever works great.
I’ve no idea how many of you will have ever been towed on a bike. It’s nothing like being towed in a car. Though perfectly possible, it's best done right, by two people who know what they are doing. Even then, it’s terrifying. The very nice man who came out to help me had never towed a bike and I had only ever done the towing. For both of us this was going to be a learning experience and neither of us would have chosen for that lesson to take place on snow.

We had to look the rope around the forks and back to the hitch leaving a little too short for comfort. As the rope took the strain and as my bike began to carry me but someone else in control, I’d never felt so uncomfortable. In seconds I was screaming, “Slow it down, I’m gonna have to paddle this thing.” The front wheel was dancing from side to side so I needed time to correct each shift. The driver obliged and we crawled to the top of the hill, my heart trying to beat its way though my sore rib cage, probably in a bid to find a more sensible owner. Several times I was sure I was going down. Thankfully, that didn’t happen.
Alan's new pinion bolt
cover looks like
Suzuki put it there.

The main road, when we reached it, was far better. We could say our fair-wells and sign paperwork. Finally, about seven hours after I left, I was in a position to make my way home. He could get back to dragging people off their drives and I could start a very slow ride home, not the way I came though. The longer way. The one with fewer steep bits and more traffic. The way I should have come in the first place. My destination, G. W. Johnson’s Motorcycles in Harrogate, home of Alan Johnson.

Alan wasn’t busy. My snow caked Vstrom, it’s indicators hanging off, handlebar ends at a jaunty angle and gear change leaver partially absent went straight in. He went to work immediate, rummaging though a box of assorted indicators for bikes long since scrapped for one he could bodge on. The lighting repaired, he went to work drilling a hole through the remains of the gear change pedal, sticking a bolt through and covering it with the rubber part of a kick starter. The resulting repair so good I’ve forgotten it’s there. The bar end bolt was straightened and a new cover for the Swingarm Pinion was fashioned for a box of old rubber bits. Within the space of an hour, my bike was fully roadworthy again and I had been charged for half an hour’s labour if that.

That’s the thing about Alan. He puts things right and knows his customers. He knows my bike works for a living and that I couldn’t give two hoots what it looks like. For me he keeps it working. For other, he keeps them working and beautiful. My good friend Kev always says, “I take my bike to Alan because when I get it back, I know it’s right. Simple!” And he’s right.

I wonder what kind of bike
this item started its life on.
In the mean time Sandra is upstairs booking them in, finding parts for anything and everything and every so often, if you look like you’re in no rush to
be somewhere else, making a cup of tea, good and strong with a splash of milk. Just like Alan, she knows her clients, mostly by name. For goodness sakes, she knows my children by name and doesn’t seem to mind too much when they rearrange her displays for her. I’ve counted on them for the last 13 year and I hope they will still be there for me to count on for many more to come.

So, what did I learn from the whole experience? Darn it. I did say I would write this section and I kinda wish I hadn’t. Please don’t read anything I write as being a ‘Learned Opinion.’

Thanks to these, the bodywork survived
our little adventure and all they asked in
return was a lick of paint.
Ok, first up, the decision to ride is about more than just whether or not it is possible to make progress on a bike. What happens when conditions change? What happens if you brake down? Can you mitigate these concerns with a different route choice? I would have been fine if I had taken a different route.

Next up, the old scout motto, be prepared. A head torch (flashlight) would have prevented any need for recovery. Well, a head torch and a folding shovel. The first now lives under the seat. I’m waiting to find the perfect shovel.

Finally, reading this month’s Ride and recent editions of MCN, it seems my belief that the engine braking on the VStrom is good in the snow, isn’t. I thought it was giving me more control on descents but all others writing about the topic want less torque and no engine braking. Having not tried it, I don’t know. So what have I learned? I’ve learned that a little experience, like a little knowledge, is a dangerous thing.

Lessons learned. This time I turned around.
In future I’ll probably not ride into untreated snow again. Since I started this writing project I’ve had plenty of chances for a repeat and taken the car most times. With parent’s evening, an Easter production and diocesan inspection, I couldn’t risk down time so I usually drove. Then, on my way to work, up the same road that got me last time, I came upon snow and ice. I panicked a little, let the bike roll to a halt, got off and considered my options. That time I took the picture, walked the bike back to the black and found another way. It’s not the coming off I wanted to avoid. It was the cost of fixing and the embarrassment of putting others out. It’s not that I won’t ride if it’s snowing. I can't afford to drive nor can I stand not riding. I will probably head out in snow. I'll just be a bit less adventurous. No, that not fair. I’ll be a little more cautious.


  1. It is good to post these sort of adventures as it helps others make better choices. Well maybe.

    Ride safe.


    1. I enjoyed writing it and I'm pretty sure it helped me get the whole experience into perspective. If it helps all the better. Been enjoying looking at you page by the way Farrider245 (Cliff). Looks like you get some serious miles on that Vee.


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