As far as New England winters go, this one hasn't been the worst for anybody - generally milder temperatures in the early season, with only a couple good dumps of snow so far means we may not be too far from some enjoyable early spring ridin time. Add a couple days with temps in the 50's, and I know we'll have a whole slew of eager scooter beavers just itching to get out for a ride. As you're layering up and preppin to get out on the road, here are some considerations specific to riding in Portsmouth, NH - including some particularly tricky moped-spots - that you might want to keep in mind.
The Bartlett Street Railroad Overpass
This little bend on Bartlett Street in Portsmouth's West End is deceptively tricky. For one, its located just off the corner of Islington and Bartlett, so you can expect moderate to heavy traffic most times of day. Beyond that, the railroad overpass presents some unique hazards. The railroad trestle provides shade over a pretty significant curve in the road. Add the drippage and melt coming from the banks and trestle, and you have a wet portion of road that gets very little sun. This means you can find ice here, when other parts of the road are dry, or just water. Before you bank into this turn, look ahead to check for water - there's a good chance its actually black ice. Tight turn + black ice = high probability of eating pavement. Finally, travel in either direction can stop short pretty quickly - the bend and overpass can make for a blind spot, so take it slow and make sure you've got plenty of space between you and the next car.
The Islington Street Corridor
Islington Street is a main vein of travel and commerce in Portsmouth's West End. Home to a variety of automotive service shops, auto parts stores, industrial supply houses, breweries, cafes, banks, and more, you can expect this street to be busy most times of the year. This time of year, the potholes are terrible! I bottomed the front forks out on this Maxi hitting a pretty good one - at the very least this can be jarring and distracting, at worst it bungs up your front end, you lose control, and pull a Superman over your bars. Best bet is to leave plenty of space between you and the next car, so you can see these potholes and avoid them far ahead of time. Beyond that there can be a good amount of construction on this street, which means lots of loose sand and gravel. Look at all that junk the trolley is kicking up! That'll get in your eyes which is uncomfortable at least, and a safety hazard no doubt.
Market Square and Downtown Portsmouth Proper
Ah, the beautiful downtown Portsmouth. Yes, this little city is build for mopeds and scooters for sure. Easy parking, narrow roads, lovely sights. Absolutely do not hesitate to go for a ride through town, but do know this can be just as dangerous as anywhere, despite slow moving traffic. Your biggest threat: human beings. Tourists and locals alike (ok mostly the tourists) will take their life into their hands (without even knowing it) by pushing the limits of their rights as pedestrians. Particularly, the folks who aren't familiar with the downtown layout will hop into a crosswalk with little notice. Worse, some pedestrians like to cross where there isnt a crosswalk at all! It only takes a split second for a pedestrian to pop out from between some parked cars and BAM they're in the middle of the road. What do to? Drive slow and stay constantly alert. These wackos will pull bipedal maneuvers you've never even heard of, so you've got to be ready to react accordingly. On a moped, with a wider stance from the pedals, I'll get up into the "jockey" position so I can see further ahead down the road, and make myself more visible.
Other than that, here are some general tips for riding in the late winter/early spring
- Gear up, layer up - it might feel warm on a 50* day in the sun, but once you get moving it may be colder than you expect. A good jacket, gloves, and eye protection are critical to keep your control hands operating nicely, and keeping your eyes tear-free.
- Look out for ice, snow, and water - with all the melting going on, there's going to be more slick-road hazards then in the summer. Stay alert and take turns slowly.
- Pre-ride- Start that scooter up and give it a few minutes to warm up. With cooler overnight temperatures, your engine oil will thicken up a bit so it may take that much longer to get the oil to proper viscosity to lubricate your engine effectively.
- Post-ride After your ride, keep a hose or spray-bottle handy to rinse the salt and grit and grime of your scooter - this stuff is caustic and not only does it look nasty, but it will corrode components on your bike, causing premature wear.
- The biker wave - You're riding down Islington and see another motorbike coming towards you in the opposing lane. Your on a bike in February. He's on a bike in February. You're killin it. He's killin it. What better to commemorate this moment of awesomeness by extending the biker wave? Lowering your left hand, open to the oncoming rider, to the left lower side of your machine. As cool as this can be, extending a biker-only greeting to an exclusive group of motorized badasses, it can be distracting and potentially unsafe. As a rule, I tend to keep both my hands on the bars at all times, unless I'm signaling. This move, if made quickly or unexpectedly, an draw your hands away from your controls, leaving you unprepared for a sudden "Oh crap" moment. If a biker extends this greeting to you, and you wish not to diss them, try an overexaggerated head nod, perhaps in conjunction with a frowny-face nose-flared badass face (see below). Your gesture will be well received, while maintaining complete control over your ride. Hell yea.