Winter R&D

Let’s talk dedication for a minute.

A lot motorcyclists are forced into a sort of riding hibernation for several months of the year, a terrible period of time when it’s just too damned cold to ride, or too dangerous. Most people call this period of time winter, but I like to refer to it as hell on earth. Sure, I enjoy some winter activities, like seeing how many layers of clothing I can wear all at once or mistyping text messages on my phone because I can’t feel my fingers, but having to lock my bike in a cage (you might call it a garage) for six months out of the year is just plain rude. I love riding—it’s mostly all I spend my time thinking about—and it’s something I want to do just about every day of the year, excluding days that I’m stuck inside with the flu or sick from one too many whiskies the night before.

While I grew up in an area of the United States that does indeed possess all four seasons—“cold”, “colder”, “cold as hell”, and “Hey, I’m not seasonally depressed for a few weeks out of the year”—I wised up at a young age, realizing I needed to exchange my thermal underwear for board shorts and flip flops, and I fled my home state of Maine for the sunny shoreline of Southern California as soon as I graduated from university.

I now live in San Diego, close to where the NUVIZ HQ is located, and I’m spoiled to say the least—I can ride every day of the year that I want to, aside from when it’s raining because Californian drivers turn into the Wicked Witch of the West when a few drops of precipitation come down (“I’m melting, melting!” Get it? No? Sorry, my jokes suck.).

Anyways, while a lucky few of us NUVIZ employees get to reside in this beautiful city with perfect weather throughout most of the year, the majority of our staff lives in Finland, close to our R&D offices in the Finnish city of Salo. If you’ve never been to Finland, well, it’s cold! I’ve only been there once for around five or six days, and for most of those five or six days I couldn’t feel my face. While I was there, however, I was fortunate enough to meet our mechanical/reliability test engineer, Marko. Marko is awesome, but Marko is also a nut. When I pulled into the parking lot of the Salo offices for the first time, there was a motorcycle parked next to the entrance. “That’s Marko’s bike,” another coworker told me. Wait, what? What’s it doing there, nestled in between snowbanks and resting on the thick layer of ice that covered the parking lot’s surface. As it turned out, that bike is Marko’s daily commuter, even when temperatures are well below freezing and the fear of slipping on the ice while walking is high, let alone while piloting a motorcycle.

Marko’s old Honda NX650 Dominator is probably better suited for winter riding more than other bikes since it’s light in weight and easier to handle than a heavy big-twin or powerful sport bike, but still, winter road conditions can be sketchy enough in a car. To battle the cold, Marko had installed heated hand muffs to keep his fingers from icing over and a power output to connect his heated visor system. Other than that, road-legal studs in his tires were the only other thing he had done to equip his two-wheeled steed for Finland’s harsh winters.

“It’s not hard, but you have to take the conditions into account,” Marko explained. “You should also be well familiar with what to do when your tires are slipping, because they are, all the time! We also have a couple of external Trusted User Testers that ride during the winter, so I’m not the only one. Some riders in Finland are riding in areas where there aren’t a lot of people and houses nearby, and then you have to take more serious precautions and prepare to keep yourself warm in the case of engine failure or something else. 

That led to my next question for Marko…how the hell does he keep warm? “Not letting the cold air blow inside your gear is a must!” he told me. “If you fail to do so, you’ll notice it pretty soon though [laughs]. You also have to wear enough warm layers underneath.” I watched Marko gear up one afternoon after work was over, and about two hours later he was ready for the ride home!

Back to the dedication part, how does this help us at NUVIZ? Well, just because it’s winter out, the show still needs to go on, right? Our R&D engineers and TUT riders are constantly testing out new features for upcoming software updates, and Marko uses his ride to work to do this on a daily basis. “Normally I just quickly test some new features that are difficult or impossible to test with a car, like speed sensitive volume pre-set curves, and daily commuting to work and back can be perfect for that. In this weather and with my existing gear, I think an hour max is all I can handle without a break for hot coffee. Plus Winter in Finland is pretty long to wait for the next riding season, and now I don’t get so anxious waiting to get on my bike. It’s a slightly different feeling getting to ride to work during a wintery sunrise instead of driving in a car, especially when you take a shortcut via the sea, on ice!”