Some of the best hours of riding are before us as Minnesota and Wisconsin show off their finest colors in years. Reports say this Fall will give us good weather and vivid color.
Don't put off planning your ride. Research scenic routes, line up some friends and make a memory of it. Fall riding brings its own unique array of hazards, but don't let that deter you from enjoying the last rides before the snow flies. Here is a short list of things to consider ? preparation you can do before the ride to keep you warmer, drier and safer.
Leaves fall, get wet and create an unexpected "slick" around any corner ahead of you. Fall harvest means tractors bringing mud out of fields and dragging gravel on to corners. Deer, turkeys and other creatures pop out of nowhere. Even more important in the Fall ? looking further up the road is critical ? and signaling to your group is essential. Think about the condition of your own bike, from summer riding or lack of use: tire pressure, suspension settings and rider positioning. Before you hit the road, make sure you check tire pressure.
Remember the basics of braking. While there is more power in the front brakes, use both brakes to increase your control and response time. Particularly if you are riding with a group, braking and speed control are important to flow, cohesion, and signaling those behind you.
Layering is the way to go. If you are new to late Fall, cold-weather rides, get to know the array of layers that are available and which ones are worth the investment. Think about what you want your outerwear to do for you ? keep you dry? Keep you warm? Block the wind? You'll need three layers. While cotton is "cool" in summer ? you need to leave it in the drawer for Fall. Close fitting, performance base layers are the first layer. Think UnderArmor, Polarmax and Smart Wool. The next layer is the warmth layer ? think wool, performance fleece or vests. The final layer is the windstopper and rain proof layer. Think nylon, GoreTex, and "Windstopper" labels. Talk to the experts at any outdoor sportswear store for the proper performance clothing. And like anything ? you get what you pay for. Also, electric vests, liners and heated handgrips are designed for cold weather riding that can totally change the experience.
Your feet and hands deserve as much attention as the rest of your body, as they have the least blood circulation. Research and invest in socks and gloves that demonstrate warmth, movement and durability. Think about what you want your gloves to do and whether it's worth it to pack a couple pair that serve different needs. Never wear two pairs of socks and make sure your feet can move inside your boots.
Cold weather riding (or days that start cold and turn warmer by noon) may be best served with a helmet or cap. Make sure you always pack your gaitor even if you don't think you need it. Don't own one yet? Buy one that offers the fullest coverage. You'll never ride without one again in the Fall/Spring months. Remember when your head, hands and feet are cold, riding becomes a lot less fun and worse yet you start to lose concentration on the road/riding. You burn more calories when it's cold ? so make sure you frequently stop, warm up and eat.
Finally, be mindful of the load in your storage compartments. Make sure your bags are balanced for wearing and shedding a day's worth of gear for cool weather riding. Get out there with the cool, dry air in your face and take in what our two great states have to offer.