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MC Dispatch

Reader-submitted rides, reviews and stories


Natural hazards

by Alison Green


Tags: safe riding, deer, hazards,

Alison Green 

If you have been piloting a motorcycle for more than a few years, I’m certain that you are only too well acquainted with the potential for grief from natural hazards. I’m not talking about weather and road conditions, but about running afoul of things large and hairy. There are moose, deer, bear, dogs, raccoons and a host of other fur coated wanderers just waiting to sabotage your ride. Occasionally there is something even more bizarre!

First the big ones -- moose and deer. Same family, but different habits. For those who live in deer country, the sight of a pair of ears poking up from the ditch brings an instant adrenalin rush. To put it mildly, deer are unpredictable. Their ability to leap is prodigious, and their ability to think (at least regarding traffic) is severely limited. The best approach; slow down and cover the brakes. Better yet, if possible, avoid riding in deer country at dusk and dawn when deer are most active.  Deer are almost never aggressive, just confused and flighty and impossible to out-guess. Slow down.

Moose on the other hand are generally less flighty, but they can be cranky and are big enough to make anyone pay attention. They are also most active at dusk and dawn, especially in the early spring, although sightings are possible any time of year. Their dark, rough coats do not reflect any light at night, and their eyes seldom shine in the glare of headlights: when they do reflect, moose eyes show red. Hard riding at night in moose country can be a recipe for disaster. Occasionally they seem to enjoy standing on the pavement and contemplating life. It is unwise to ride close up behind such an animal and lean on the horn -- it may indeed shuffle off into the bush, but it also may decide to challenge you and your defenseless little bike! This is not good. Be polite. Moose are big.

Elk and wild sheep also have a habit of standing about on the road, but collisions are less likely with these, partially because their presence is expected, even anticipated, in specific areas. Domestic cattle are just plain stupid on the road, and they are formidably large and potentially lethal. Slow down immediately.  Horses can be more prone to panic, but are fortunately seldom at large.

As for other furry things that wander across the road, all are to be avoided if possible.

Bear collisions are mercifully few, but the potential exists. Skunks and porcupines are not only large enough to dent a front rim; they have nasty side-effects. Raccoons can be a tremendous size. Consider anything larger than a squirrel as a serious threat to your ride. Carcasses of any sort should also be avoided if possible; compounding the yuck factor, bones and quills can puncture tires, and the mess can be slippery. Not good!

Consider this: It's mid-June 2001 on the Trans Canada Highway in northern Ontario. The weather is nice, it's mid-afternoon and there is a semi-trailer load of lumber on its side on the outside of a curve. There are no skid marks on the pavement. Fortunately, the driver was not hurt, nor was he sleepy or ‘under the influence’ when he crashed.  

What happened? Caterpillars happened!

In an area of almost solid poplar re-growth, this was a banner year for army caterpillars. The foliage had been denuded on the south side of the road and the ‘army’ was making its way en-masse across the highway. From a distance the pavement looked wet, but up close it was slimy with flattened caterpillars. The resulting goo was so slippery that when the driver touched his trailer brakes to steady the rig in the curve, he lost traction and slid sideways as if on ice. Just think what it would have done to your two-wheeled traction!

Ever considered what smacking into a large bird would feel like? Seagulls, ducks, geese, crows -- any of these birds are substantial enough to unseat an unprepared rider -- and it has happened. Even crows, which are generally smart about staying alive in traffic, have problems with motorcycles. If there are birds feeding on or near the road ahead of you, scrub some speed and give them a chance to clear -- especially in the autumn when waterfowl flock. Slow down. Ducks are not the smartest of birds and often take off in bunches, fast and low and at windshield height. The best technique is to not be taken by surprise and watch your speed in hazardous bird situations.

Almost every region has its own unique selection of natural hazards. Travel in foreign lands brings with it the potential for exotic hazards; furry, feathered or otherwise - but the same approach works in almost all situations.

Scrub some speed, cover the front brake and maintain super vigilance. It does pay off. -- Alison Green