It can be easy to let your guard down when riding in the fall. If you’ve been riding all summer, the break from the heat is exhilarating. And, of course, there are all the gorgeous autumn colors. As pleasant as the ride may be, it is important to stay alert and aware of your surroundings.
For cars and trucks, November is the month with the most deer accidents. Since most motorcyclists across the more heavily deer populated states already have their bikes stored for winter by then, the few motorcyclists left riding need to be most careful in September and October. This is the early start to the mating season and the deer only have one thing on their minds (and it isn’t “Watch For Motorcycles”). Rob Found, a biologist from the University of Alberta puts it candidly, “Males are so focused on mating, they’re not thinking straight.”
But, it isn’t just deer hormones that are to blame for the increase in deer activity (and, therefore, deer collisions); it’s also our seasonal, human actions. Harvesting narrows their food choices, while the large farm equipment used to harvest displaces the deer from the fields. Meanwhile, hunters send the deer on the move in the woods and other undeveloped areas.
AAA research has a chilling (but expected) statistic: 70% of fatal vehicle-deer collisions involve motorcycles. And 90% of all deer accidents, fatal or not, happen on 2-lane roads, between dusk and dawn. 2-lane roads are a motorcyclist’s favorite, let’s be honest. Enjoying a ride amidst the fall colors in the late afternoon is one of the most beautiful times to ride in late summer and autumn. However, as the sun starts going down, you need to be extra vigilant to watch for deer on or near the roads. Dusk and dawn are when deer are most active.
While watching for Bambi, keep in mind that other motorists may also be distracted by the fall colors and weather. Watch for other drivers. Also, drivers will be less likely to watch for or expect motorcycles as temperatures continue to drop throughout fall.Those colorful leaves themselves can also become a hazard. Fallen leaves on the road can become very slippery, especially when they are damp. They can also disguise potholes and other road hazards. Be aware of leaves collecting on the roadways and try to avoid them when possible, especially in corners and when coming to a stop. They can severely limit your ability to react in an emergency, as well.
But, it’s not just falling leaves; it’s also falling temperatures. Cooler temperatures mean that the roads and your tires will be cooler. Give your tires more time to warm up on a ride before you begin carving the corners. Also, leave yourself more time and distance to brake and avoid obstacles. If it has been a dry summer, the increased rain in autumn can make the roads slick with the oil buildup from vehicles. Combined with the other increased fall hazards (deer, leaves, distracted motorists not expecting motorcyclists, etc.), it is paramount to take extra precautions when riding this time of year.
It is also a good idea to be sure that your emergency braking and swerving maneuvers are sharp and fresh. Empty parking lots are ideal places to practice. You’ve never been riding “too long” for this to be beneficial. Don’t get caught in the lie that you “had to lay it down.” Modern tires and brakes will slow you much faster than sliding plastic or chrome. Be sure your “panic braking” techniques are proper and controlled, and that your reflexes are quick. Consider enrolling in a refresher course with your local MSF.
As you can see, fall is one of the worst times to cut corners on your riding gear. Not only can the proper gear protect you from unexpected drops in temperature (or rain!), but it can significantly increase your chances of survival in “The Worst Case Scenario” (aka, “crashing”). Statistics show the odds are greatly stacked against you as a motorcyclist when it comes to deer and other fall hazards. Be sure you are covered head-to-toe: full-face helmet, armored jacket, gloves, armored pants, and reinforced boots. Expect the unexpected and dress accordingly.
http://www.statefarm.com/aboutus/_pressreleases/2011/october/3/us-deer-collisions-fall.asp * http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/nation/story/2011-10-31/deer-car-accidents-rise/51019604/1 * http://www.isp.state.il.us/traffic/motorcyclefallsafety.cfm * http://www.smarter-usa.org/rider-skills/deer-tips/