Extreme Winter Ride Experience
The sight of snow is enthralling, walking in it, feeling it fall from the heavens on your bare skin and just watching the world around you get covered in a blanket of white.
For automobile enthusiasts, it is not just the sight that is amazing. But also, the lure of riding and driving in that white powdery stuff, which is exciting and challenging in equal measure. For those who haven’t seen snow, you just want to dive into it and then hop onto your machine of choice and go for a spin.
Needless to say, most of us in India, never have the opportunity to see or drive in snow. For that, we must venture to the high Himalayas. Riding and driving in these conditions require a different mindset as well as a previously unexplored set of machine handling skills. You should plan a holiday to experience winter once at its finest. And when you do, keep these things in mind, so that you can enjoy your ride safely…
There’s only one miserly god in these conditions, and that is the god of traction. Extreme winter conditions take the one thing away, which we are so dependent on. Without that reassuring feedback from the tyre on solid asphalt, we go from being seasoned veterans to absolute first-timers.
The rules of traction are:
Remember it is available in short supply
You need to undertake one activity at a time. Either steer, brake or accelerate. Do two together and see your vehicle spin out of control.
Be as gentle on the throttle as possible. Hammering the throttle open as we do in normal conditions, will lead you to trouble fast.
Keep your body relaxed, the moment you tense up, you will make mistakes.
Among all the extreme winter conditions you can get, fresh snow is the best. Riding or driving in fresh snow is akin to doing so in slush. Your tyres will sink in a little, slide a little, but by and large manageable. As long as you keep your steering and accelerating inputs gradual.
The only challenge that can arise is if it starts snowing while you are driving. Visibility will reduce substantially as the snow sticks to your visor/ windscreen. Situations might arise, where you need to stop and wait out the snowstorm.
If you can spot tyre tracks of a bigger vehicle like a bus or car. Try to keep your tyres within those tracks. Keep an eye for snow which is packed so hard that it has become ice. Use the clutch generously and throttle gently. Concentrate on the ‘here and now and forget about your plans later in the day. Time isn’t of the essence when navigating these conditions, safety is.
For a plainsman, the terms ice and snow are interchangeable. Yet, the two are different. Driving on snow is relatively easy. Ice is at the whims of the traction god. You can take as much care as required, and still get thrown off your motorcycle, landing butt-first!
On the ice, your traction reserves are always bordering zero. The only mantra is to go slow, super slow. The world should look like it is being shot at 240 FPS! Keep your head up and see further ahead, slow down to walking speeds in advance for a turn. If on a motorcycle, then stick your legs out to help maintain balance. Your legs will also be able to catch a fall when stuck out. Worst case, you fall off your motorcycle. Don’t fret, chances are nothing will get damaged on rider or machine at those slow speeds. Hop back on and continue!
When you do need to brake, use the rear brake on your motorcycle. In a car or motorcycle, do not touch the brakes while turning. Slow, steady and smooth, will ensure you can navigate through tricky ice bits safely.
The worst of the trio. Black ice is ice that forms as a thin layer on the black asphalt. It is not visible to the naked eye from a distance. At times black ice might even form when there is no other snow or ice visible in the vicinity. A section of road with some running water in the shade is enough to form black ice in the winters.
Once you hit a patch of black ice, you need to navigate it in the same manner as you would regular ice. The tricky bit here is spotting it early.
Keep a lookout for shaded spots on the road. Slow down beforehand. If there are any oncoming or other vehicles ahead, see how they move through that section. If you see another vehicle fishtailing, slow down, it is probably because they have hit a patch of black ice.
One problem which drivers and riders might face is starting woes. Seeing a blanket of unforgiving snow might cause the traveller’s spirit to not start. Getting back into bed with a hot cup of tea might be more tempting. Well, we can’t help with that sort of starting problem.
This is for those, who are ready to venture out in these extreme conditions. Your vehicle is not built for operation several degrees below zero. And it might cause a few heartburns before the engine roars to life. Problems will be exacerbated in older vehicles. Here are a few handy pointers to reduce this starting trouble to the bare minimum:
Don’t leave your vehicle parked in the open overnight. Park it under a shade.
You can chuck a couple of mugs of hot water on the intake track to help the fuel to vaporise easily for combustion. Do this before you crank the engine.
On a motorcycle with a kickstart, use it, rather than trying to crank with the battery.
For battery-only vehicles, crank the vehicle and if it starts in the first three attempts, great. If not, stop. You don’t want to drain the battery in the cold. Wait for the sun to rise and shed some heat on the vehicle before cranking again.
Once the engine starts up. Let the engine idle till it reaches a steady state. It can take even up to 5 minutes for the engine to warm up properly. Be patient. Only once the engine is warm, then head out.
Other than operating your machines, you also need to take care of yourself. Food, drink and clothing are essential to being comfortable in these conditions. The mountains are no place for heroics, if you feel something is beyond your scope of skill, then hold back. A misadventure can turn fatal in quick time in these places.
Keep safety in mind and you will enjoy your extreme winter motoring holiday. There are few things as gratifying as testing your limits and surpassing them.