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About Postcards from the Hedge

Always on the cutting edge of the motorcycle industry, Bill Heald’s Postcards from the Hedge provides readers with an exceptional look into all things motorcycle. From racing to design to day-to-day riding, Heald has a grasp on it all.

Name: Bill Heald

Current Rides: Honda VFR and V45 Magna, Kawasaki Ninja 500, Triumph Street Triple R

Favorite quote:

The Wand chooses the Wizard Mr. Potter. It is not always clear why.

- Mr. Ollivander in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

The Siren Call of a Sudden Thaw

“Everybody talks about the weather, but many of these people don’t adjust their tire pressure in a timely manner.”

-Marlin Metzeler, Son of Ohlin

First, came the rain. This was followed by snow, then freezing rain, then fitful winds, then really cold temperatures, then power outages. Sound familiar? It is our lot in a New England winter, and happened in my neck of the woods quite recently. The snow is one thing, but ice comes straight from the devil’s tank bag and it not only quells any though of riding but can suck a pedestrian into the turf with enough velocity to compromise the structural integrity of their personal chassis. But this amazingly weird winter has taken such hazards and added some devilment in the form of dramatically changing conditions, to the point where this time around the temperature shot up dramatically in just a few days. It was a thaw of epic proportions, which not only was very conducive to clean-up, it also made road conditions ridable for a few precious days. It is here were the really tricky stuff starts, because taking the opportunity to knock a hole in winter, if only for a short period, is really hard to pass up.


But like every gift from the blue, there are things that warrant caution. This particular scenario was quite specialized, for once the higher temps made the roads blissfully free from almost all the ice, sleet and snow - more on that in a moment - they still sported all kinds of nasty hazards that required some very delicate riding. The leavings of this particular storm event included the usual stuff like sand (there’s a reason why sand traps on golf courses are called “hazards”) and salt. A note on that last substance: sodium chloride and I are not friends, although I do like it as a

condiment and it does go rather well with ocean water. But it can do bad things to blood pressure, and when allowed to lie in piles on the roadway it can actually be like sand in terms of foiling traction (in a weird, unpredictable way) and it is very cruel to man-made objects. It plays havoc with metal (rust) and fouls the rigging with aluminum (corrosion). This means a good clean after a ride is indicated, just to be on the safe side. The type of storm that delivers ice means there’s a few other pitfalls you have to keep on the lookout for, and this first one is primarily limited to a forested area like the one I live in. Ice is much worse than snow when it comes to pruning trees, and leaving all kinds of lumber (from kindling to telephone poles) on the road. This time around I saw some really scary stuff, like a castle’s worth of fire-starting materials at irregular intervals with pieces that were big enough to cause problems. Even worse, there was one particular curve very near my house, where in true cinematic fashion what was once a stately oak had toppled into the road, partially suspended by phone and cable lines making it appear as if a giant funnel-web spider was just waiting to gobble up the unsuspecting motorcyclist. This was a blind corner in the direction from which I was approaching, and our town had neglected to put even a single cone out to tell you there was trouble ahead. The First Selectman was notified but did nothing, and to think I voted for the dink. It still makes me mad when I think about it, and if I had not already been riding really cautiously it could have been ugly.

Oh, and then there’s the nastiest part of this otherwise lovely escape from winter to enjoy a brief bit of moto-bliss. This is almost a physics-defying thing, but it is one of the nastier surprises you can encounter on a post-storm ride. When you combine the time of year when the sun is still pretty low in the sky, some trees, and some leftover frozen precipitation that, despite the ambient temperature, hasn’t completely melted away, lookout. Lurking in the shadows we have some black ice, which is something I hate almost as much as I hate flaming balrogs on rickety bridges. It is one of nature’s wonders, the way this stuff can camouflage itself as a harmless puddle of water, or even just a damp spot on the tarmac. But it is slicker than oil on Teflon, and can easily ruin your day. The good thing is it’s usually quite avoidable if you’re traveling at a slow pace and really paying attention. There’s something about knowing there’s trolls about that helps you deal with them should they strike.

Here endeth the bad side of what is, after all, a little blessing in a bleak time of year. I’m not saying leave the bike dormant when these temporary gaps in the seasons appear; just realize it holds its own special challenges and, in a weird way, it’s own unique rewards. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to deal with another part of the winter thaw: mud. Don’t get me started.