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Snow Joke

Still, it could be worse

Some time ago I was riding home to my country retreat. As I left the big bad city on a cold evening in the rush hour the frustration and weariness being displayed by the car bound commuters was something that you could almost reach out and touch. Riding a one litre naked bike with ample power, the inclination to filter is irresistible. Doing so, while my elders and betters will correct me, is just so much fun.


I ride between lanes two and three on the nations most loved motorway, looking into the mirrors, scanning for turned front wheels, indicators and trying, usually in vain to be heard over the phones, talking and sounds in the cars. This is what I call living.


Some days riding a bike feels like existing on a different plane. We have our own set of challenges to deal with, our own risks, our own rewards. I don’t commute at an average speed of 4 kilometres per hour. But I do dress like ‘an unarmed space marine’ as I was once described. Unlike when I’m driving the family school truck, my thoughts and worries dissipate. They’ll still be waiting for me when I stop. But just now it’s just me and the moment.


As I continue out of the city and onto the countries second most loved motorway the traffic picks up its pace before slowing again in deference to the upcoming toll booth. Paying to get through the gate involves taking off my gloves, finding a pocket to dig out my phone only to be told that I can’t tap to pay and I’ll need to find my card. This is always in a different pocket and usually necessitates taking off the second glove..


After that I’ll need to put my card back in my wallet and put both back into separate pockets in my jacket. I’ll need to make sure that they’re both waterproof. Then I’ll have to put my gloves back on. I’ll have to take my the time to make sure that they meet my cuffs correctly in order to stop the cold air from running up my sleeves. It’s all a just a bit of a torture in order to give someone who runs one of the most profitable companies in the country the price of a KitKat.


But I’m on a bike and I have a plan. I simply roll in behind one of the ‘heavies’ and tailgate it as we both roll through the barrier. This allows me to clear the gate before it comes down. Accelerating, I ride past my ‘doorman’ and wave my left hand in thanks. I’m rewarded by a huge grin and a staggering amount of noise as the driver salutes me with a blast from the airhorn on his truck accompanied by a flash of the lights on the front of the big Scania.


He may have been hit up for seven and a half Euro, but the sheer delight that these drivers display when they see someone cheat would warm even the coldest of hearts.


A couple of kilometres later and I’ve reached my exit. Running up to the top of the ramp I roll off, gear down and look to the right to see if there’s anything coming off the roundabout. There isn’t and as I check my left I roll back on again taking the first exit. There’s something very satisfying about clearing the junction without touching a brake.


As I ride on the first major change is the oncoming traffic. I no longer have the benefit of passing slower vehicles without adding a consideration for oncoming ones. Solid lines and blind bends demand a bit more attention and a bit less laziness. As I approach the first big town the bypass is lit up and there follows a series of satisfying roundabouts. It’s seven in the evening now, pitch black and the temperature is starting to drop. The cold feels so much harsher thanks to my pace.


I’m wearing a base layer followed by a back and chest protector. On my feet I have a pair of cold killer socks. As a mid layer I’m wearing some Knox kit. The trousers and pants are about as heavy as my gym gear but so, so, much warmer.


Over all of this I have a thermally lined laminated two piece suit with a hi vis vest topping it off. I look about twice as big as I actually am and my movement off the bike is somewhat restricted. On my feet I have a pair of robust GoreTex lined boots. A thick snood compliments my Arai. While the clear visor looks a long way from cool, it’s earning it’s keep tonight as I approach the halfway point.   


Then I find another well lit roundabout. I’m on one of those half dual carriageways with a single lane on one side and two on the other. Dividing them is mile after mile of cable designed to catch vehicles that crash or drift over towards the other side of the road. There’s a metal post every 100 metres or so. While this may be a great idea for the four wheeled amongst us, for a motorcyclist it looks like the local council are hoping to kill off a few of us.


Another main town beckons, its lights glinting in the distance. More illumination. More roundabouts. Another drop in temperature.


As I leave the bypass I see one of those super rest stops. I decide to pull in, top the bike up and take a break for a few minutes.


Back on the road 15 minutes later and the temperature seems a lot colder than it was when I pulled in. The road the far side of the services is narrower and a lot more technical. The surface is good and it routes through a small town and another village before I cross the border.


I’m always struck by how our perceptions of Northern Ireland include the misconception that their roads are better than ours. They’re not. They're awful.


As I ride on I’m pleased to see another motorcyclist coming towards me. As I wonder why the they’re moving so slowly I get a bit closer only to find that the ancient Massy Fergusons right headlight is out. My displeasure at having to share the planet with some other humans starts to mount. The expression, ‘a waste of skin’ comes to mind.


Two more northern towns add significantly to my journey time as they are generously fitted with far too many traffic lights. When I finally cross the border again the rain is coming down enthusiastically. Another 40 kilometres of twisting roads, bridges and changes in elevation and I’m starting to get tired. This is such a fun road in daylight!


The next town is the seat of the county. As I leave it I’m less than 20 kilometres from home. Once again the roads surface deteriorates dramatically. The rain has left pools across its entirety in some places. As I emerge from yet another bend the cold is starting to become a serious issue. That’s when it starts to snow.


The road is gritted, so there’s plenty of grip. There’s just a shade of a problem with visibility. The snow covers my visor and while my clever gloves have a wiper on the left thumb it’s still not enough. At this point I’m moving at a brisk walking pace. I open the visor and squint into the freezing snow. As I do I see the lights of a following vehicle.


A HGV rolls up behind me before backing off and illuminating the road in front better than any motorcycle lights ever could. Five long minutes later I get to the gate of my house. Kicking the bike into neutral I lift my left hand off the bar and give the driver a wave of thanks. My good manners are rewarded with a blast of an airhorn.


As I strip out of my kit in the kitchen pools of water pour off my gear. It’s good to be home. Any day on a motorcycle, even ones like this, are so much better here on my plane and a long way from the mundane one occupied by my car driving neighbours. The journey has taken two and a half hours, not including the break, and I’ve covered 260 kilometres. I can’t help but wonder how long some of those happy commuters have been on the ’50.


If there is a god, and I’m still pretty sceptical, they definitely drive a Scania.     






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