TOTW: Don’t let gusty side winds surprise you

The riding tips on these pages are my personal opinion about matters related to motorcycle riding. They are not the official position of any organization, and are for your consideration only. They are not hard and fast rules, they should not necessarily be applied in all circumstances, and they should not be applied without thinking. Always use your judgement and take all current safety factors into account while riding. You are responsible for your riding, not anyone else (especially me). These tips were originally published by a motorcycle riding course, called “Tip of the Week” (the reason for the TOTW in the titles).

What’s the problem?

You will often find yourself riding on windy days, and the wind may come from any direction: in front, behind, or from the side. Front and rear winds will have little noticeable effect on your ride. However, side winds will cause your bike to lean (actually you will cause your bike to lean, unconsciously, to counter the sideways force of the wind).

Even side winds are no problem as long as they are steady. Sudden changes in a side wind, however, such as sudden gusts or sudden calms, can be a problem. When a side wind suddenly increases or decreases, the lean angle of your bike suddenly becomes wrong. This can cause balance problems, especially if you have unconsciously shifted your body weight into the wind. Worse, it can cause an unintended turn, which may take you out of your lane, into the oncoming lane, or off the road. The sudden change may startle you, causing you to swerve or to brake suddenly, and this may cause a loss of traction, especially in the rain often associated with gusty wind.

Solution

The solution to these problems is simple: don’t be caught by surprise by sudden changes in the wind.

As you scan the road ahead for hazards, watch for direct and indirect signs of a rapidly-changing side wind. Direct signs are the obvious ones: blowing leaves, dust, and bent trees indicating a strong wind, or the lack of these signs indicating an area of calm.

More often, you can spot indirect signs if you are alert. Scanning the side of the road, watch for geographic changes, such as groves of trees that may suddenly block the wind, or open fields that may suddenly allow it through.

Watch for man-made changes in the landscape too. Driving under a highway overpass or passing a large truck will put you in a sudden calm followed by a sudden wind gust. In open land, a large curve in the road will change a front or rear wind to a side wind and vice versa.

Riding is an active activity. You already know that you should be constantly scanning your surroundings for potential hazards. This is not restricted to scanning for other vehicles. Train yourself to notice signs and geographic changes that will allow you to be prepared for changes in the wind.


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