Opinion: Riding in the Fall

The weather may be getting colder, and we might be wiring up our electric vests for single-digit temperatures, but there are still a few weeks of comfortable riding left in Canada.

We’re probably feeling pretty good about it, too. We’ve been riding all year and we’re used to slinging a leg over the seat and thumbing that starter button, but the roads have changed. They’re more slippery now thanks to fallen leaves and damp and crud, and we need to adjust our riding to accommodate this.

The cooler temperatures mean the water doesn’t burn off the surface so quickly, so roads stay wet for longer. For less travelled roads, this also means there are more hours in the day for sand and dirt to stick to the damp surface, so their traction isn’t what we’ve become used to.

The major concern for traction, though, is leaves on the road. Remember earlier this year when motorcyclists were complaining about people mowing their lawns and blowing the grass clippings onto the road? Leaves are just as slippery as cut grass and they’re far more random. If you’re enjoying riding on a shady country road and you round a curve and hit a scattering of fallen leaves, it’s no different from hitting sand or gravel.

Leaves aren’t a danger if you’re prepared for them and if your bike is upright. If you’re leaning over, and especially if the road is a little damp, then they will remove all grip from your tires as they form a loose barrier between the rubber and the surface.

This isn’t just a country roads thing, of course. Urban streets fill with leaves just as they’ll fill with snow in a couple of months – it’s part of being in Canada. As long as we’re prepared for this, it’s not an issue, but too many of us will only remember the slipperiness of leaves when we feel our tires slide on them for the first time.

The other potential danger of riding in the fall is the shortness of the day, which quickly becomes a cold night. For most riders, it’s just uncomfortable to be caught in the dark in the same light jacket and thin gloves that were fine in the afternoon. On a longer ride, however, the discomfort of being cold becomes a distraction and then quickly becomes dangerous if we have to focus on staying warm instead of properly watching the road.

These days, the sun sets over most of populated Canada at around 6:30 pm. That will change for almost all of us in a couple of weeks when Daylight Savings Time ends, and sunset will happen around 5 pm. It’ll be a lot cooler riding even early into the evening. If you’re headed out on your bike in the sunshine and there’s any chance you’ll be back after dark, then carry an extra layer and perhaps a warmer pair of gloves. If you left the house wearing sunglasses, consider bringing a pair with clear or yellow lenses if you may be riding home in the dark. Be prepared.

This time of year is one of the most wonderful seasons in Canada. It’s still a great time to be out riding, and for a road trip, the scenery can be glorious and rewarding. But the chill of autumn is less predictable than the heat of summer, and if you’re not prepared for it on your motorcycle, then it can bite you in the ass. Hard.

So get out there and make the most of it while we still can. The riding season’s not over yet.


  1. Having just been out on a 100 mile loop yesterday one other hazard presented itself. The lower level sunlight behind hills and through trees creates shadowed areas you can’t see into. Might be a pothole , lumber , gravel in a corner you just can’t see because your eyes can’t adjust that fast. I got lucky with a near miss of a triangle shaped softball sized piece of granite that was all by its lonesome in a dark shadowed area. Almost looked like it was intentional as there was no other dirt , dust or stones on the perfectly clean road for kilometers before and after.

    • …and I find that “dappled” light can mask patches of road that are alternately wet and dry, depending on whether the sun has been able to shine through and dry the surface.

  2. Several years ago, just after dusk, I came around a blind corner and ran over the remains of a smashed pumpkin.
    Just like hitting oil – I was on my *ss before I knew what had happened.
    There’s also the chance of meeting wildlife that have come out to enjoy the warmth of the pavement.

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