6 Secrets: Riding motorcycles into gusting winds

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6 Secrets to

Riding in gusting crosswinds

By David L. Hough

When you’re riding in windy conditions, it can be a constant fight to keep the motorcycle under control. Suddenly a gust slams into the bike, pushing it toward the shoulder, or across the centerline. It may seem that wind is unpredictable, but there are lots of clues to watch for. And there are tactics to help you ride through strong winds with less frustration.

1. Steering controls lean. When a wind gust slams into the bike, it is necessary to get the bike leaned upwind quickly. Immediately press both grips upwind. That is, if a gust from the left pushes the bike toward the right, press both grips toward the left. When leaned over into the wind but heading straight, the bike will want to roll back to vertical, so you must hold pressure on the grips to keep the bike pointed where you want to go. And when the gust suddenly dissipates, quickly and firmly press the grips the opposite way to get the bike rolled upright again.

2. Protect your eyes from windblown grit and debris. Where the landscape is relatively bare, say in the desert or along recently-plowed farms, expect dirt and sand to be picked up by the wind. In vegetated areas, leaves, needles, and bark particles will be blown downwind. Vehicles ahead of you will also suck up debris in their wakes. If you are wearing a full-coverage helmet with a faceshield, keep it closed. If there is a gap at the bottom of the helmet, wear a neckwarmer or bandanna to help block off incoming debris. If you are wearing a half helmet (or no helmet), it is essential to wear tight-fitting goggles to keep the grit out of your eyes. Don’t attempt to wipe dry sand or grit off a dirty faceshield. Clean it with soap and running water.

3. Avoid getting fatigued. The extra energy expended keeping the bike under control will wear you out more quickly. Take a rest break at least every hour. Get off the bike, find some shelter from the wind, drink some water to stay hydrated, and lubricate your eyes as needed with artificial tears. Don’t forget your earplugs. Wind noise causes fatigue, and fatigue lengthens reaction time.

4. Learn to read the wind and predict how large objects redirect wind. Clouds, flags, trees and grasses are a good indication of which way the wind is blowing. Large trucks push a "bow wave” of air, and a gust will push turbulent air around the front and downwind. It may help to imagine what the wind would look like if you could see it. When you are approaching an oncoming truck that’s on your upwind side, move as far away as possible, get tucked in to withstand the sudden wind blast, and be prepared to steer quickly to keep the bike under control.

5. Wind will bounce off the upwind side of cliffs. When you are riding upwind through a canyon, or around headlands, expect a sudden blast of wind reflecting off the upwind side of a cliff. That is, when you are rounding a cliff on your right, expect a sudden blast of wind from the right just as you come abreast of the upwind cliff face. You can also expect wind to reflect off of buildings, billboards, and other large structures. Wind tends to curl over the sides of a cut, and blow "backwards.” That is, if the prevailing wind is from your right, expect the wind to bounce off the face of the cut on your left, and curl back toward you.

6. If very strong winds are forecast, or there is a tornado alert, choose a route that avoids the windiest area, or abort the ride until conditions improve. Winds can be powerful enough to overcome tire traction. There are areas well known for strong afternoon winds, including the Columbia River Gorge between Oregon and Washington, mountain passes in California, and "Tornado Alley” through northeastern Texas and Oklahoma. The smart rider chooses a time to transit through such areas when winds will be weakest, say in the early morning hours.

The Good Rider- by David HoughDavid L. Hough ("huff”) is a veteran motorcyclist and journalist, with more than a million miles of riding experience over 48 years. Dave was inducted into the AMA Hall of Fame in 2009 in recognition of his efforts toward improving motorcyclist skills and knowledge. He is the author of several highly respected skills books, including Proficient Motorcycling and The Good Rider, available from store.soundrider.com

The author and Sound RIDER! are willing to grant permission to reprint this column at no charge for educational purposes by clubs and non-profit organizations including the military. Contact sreditor@soundrider.com for more details, full size photos and a full transcript of this article.

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