I know people think I'm crazy when they see me breezing along at, oh, ten miles over the speed limit in 38-degree weather. On a motorcycle. What they don't understand is, it's like skiing, bobsledding or ice-skating. Contrary to popular opinion, motorcycling is a winter sport.
Consider the big snow: Remember how, about this time last year, totally immobilized by the weightiest blanket of ground cover in 50 years, we all bundled up and plunged out into the sea of whiteness and savored the gusts of ice in our faces while celebrating our inutterable luck in natural beauty. Winter biking is like that.
Not to enjoy a winter's ride on a bitter cold but sunny day would be the land-bound mortal's equivalent of hating a crackling fire after three schusses on the final run down the mountainside.
In winter sports, part of the joy is in the suffering. Snow in the boots, frozen mittens, rum red noses; it feels so good when it is over and the Gluehwein is being poured inside a toasty lodge. At, oh, 70 miles per hour (you'll notice I've speeded up), winter biking is not unlike bobsledding.
One early-frozen day this winter dawned like a still, plastic imitation of itself; you walked outside and nothing moved. The sunbeams seemed painted onto the homefronts. The thermometer had arrested itself at 24 degrees. I mounted the Suzuki and took off.
Thirty-three miles, 40 minutes and two barbecue sandwiches later, I dismounted and hobbled into the cozy chrominess of the shop down in Clinton, Maryland, where nothing else much was moving on that day either, least of all money. It did not take much of me to drop $35 into a new pair of biking gloves.
The inside of a good bike shop is not unlike the inside of a really warm ski lodge, except that there are no blondes on bear rugs, as the ads always show around skiers. It's pretty much male company and a lot of hardware. But it feels good. Or take a recent Sunday when the sun shone and the temperature flirted with 44 and I went in search of a cabin in the mountains of Maryland. Before I knew it, I had breezed all the chilly way up to Catoctin Mountain National Park and stood at the very gates of Camp David. True, my fingertips hurt, my toes crackled, snapped and popped, and my kneecaps felt as though the Mafia had come for a visit, but I loved it. Never had I-270 looked so good: a clean, clear winterscape of fallow slopes awaiting springtime plowing. Just as motorcycling in fine weather gives a rider a more intimate feel for the nature around him than a motorist can know from within his rolling steel box, winter biking gives one a new sense of how the harmonious forces of nature are at work in the frozen months, too.
Like any other winter sport, winter biking requires special equipment. Snowsuits, wool socks under heavy boots, and thick gloves behind a large windshield fairing are standard preparations. Smart cyclists (not, alas, including this one) mount $45 "hippo hands" -- large leather arm covers -- on their handlebars to protect even the gloves from making direct contact with the wind (which is, after all, moving across your body at hurricane forces of 65 to 70 mph).
There's another esthetic reason to go winter biking. For reasons having to do with humidity, oxygen content and "thinness" of the air in very cold weather, motorcycles run noticeably better on clear, crisp winter days than in the summer. And to a motorcyclist, any improvement in the silky whirr of his rolling missile is an esthetic joy.
Washingtonians are blessed with relatively little unrideable weather. While I snicker over the phone to my friend in Chicago who explains in great detail how he "put up" his bike for the winter in November, I am able to make it through Washington winters without ever even taking the battery out of my bike. The only thing that brings a motorcycle to an irrevocable halt is slippery pavement -- as in ice, snow or heavy rain. But if a bike sits idle for no more than a week without being run for, say, 10 minutes, there is no reason to "put it up" for the winter.
Now if you'll excuse me, it is 28 degrees out and a brilliant sun is shining. I just remembered something I need about 40 miles from home . . .