Confessions of a Polar Bear Addict -

A Cautionary Tale


Liz Smith

OK, I know what you’re thinking – “Oh, no, she’s one of those crazy people who go riding in the winter time. You have to be crazy to go out riding in that kind of weather.” I assure you, I shared those exact same thoughts up until this past winter.

My story starts out innocently enough, like so many others. For years I had seen several of my fellow Spokes-Women members arrive at club meetings with the telltale signs of their winter riding addiction in evidence. Barbara, Laura, Marlene, Jane, Linda and others – big grins on their faces as they walked into the building, cheeks and noses red from the cold, heavy boots, heavy jackets often with wires dangling from them. Oh, they were Polar Bear addicts, all right, unmistakably so. And they were always trying to encourage others to share their addiction. “Come on, this Sunday’s ride is only to Old Bridge, it’s not far and the weather is not supposed to be too cold,” Barbara would say. I knew better. It would start out with a short ride in cool weather, then it would progress to longer rides and even colder weather. Brrrrrr, not for me!

Well, last fall I fell victim to the addiction myself. It began innocently enough. A not-too-cool, sunny October day with the leaves at their peak of fall color and a destination of Cape May for the first 2004-2005 Polar Bear destination made it too tempting a ride to resist. I had no intention of signing up for the tour, but I just wasn’t quite ready to put the bike away for the winter. New Jersey winters can be soooooo long…

I told my husband Charlie about the Cape May ride, and he thought that it sounded like a good idea for a relatively warm October day. So the two of us set off from our home in Brick Township and headed south. We slabbed it down on the Parkway since we had a time constraint. We enjoyed the ride in spite of our somewhat boring route, savoring the unusually warm weather, the bright red autumn foliage against the evergreens, the smell of the pines, and the wonderful lack of traffic on the Parkway. Well, maybe it was the sun on my helmet, or maybe it was the ever present pine scent, but after we arrived I decided to sign up for the tour. Charlie, having a lot more sense than I do, just shook his head and wondered about my sanity.

In the months that followed my addiction deepened and my habit became more and more expensive. First, it was heated gloves. Then thermal socks. Then a heated jacket liner and heated pant liners. Finally, the most expensive item of all: a pair of Frey Daytona touring boots with Gore-tex liners. Anything to stay warm while feeding my winter riding addiction.

Boy, I will say that the hook was set and it was set deep. There was no turning back at this point. Destinations grew ever further from home, and the weather grew ever colder. Since Charlie has a problem with his hands riding in cold weather, I made several of these longer trips solo. Lewes, Delaware (overland), Port Jervis, New York, Vineland (Five Points), New Jersey – off I went on the bike, bundled up and concentrating on staying warm (or at least somewhat so) in pursuit of this week’s points and the elusive patch that indicated a goal successfully accomplished!

Now, you are probably chuckling to yourself and thinking that such an affliction could never befall you – you are much too smart and too much in control to allow yourself to succumb to such an addiction. Having been in the same situation, I must urge you to reflect upon your own situation seriously for a moment and really think about whether you, too, could be a Polar Bear addict.

Addictions often creep up on us slowly and silently – if you have any doubt as to whether you might now be or someday might become a Polar Bear addict, I encourage you to take this simple quiz to find out.

1. Have you spent the equivalent of at least half a mortgage payment on heated/insulated clothing, heated handgrips and the like to be able to survive cold season rides?

2. Have you, even for the briefest moment, considered putting outriggers or a sidecar on you sport bike for better performance in snow and ice?

3. Do you ever don riding clothing that could possibly have you placed on a no-fly list as a possible bank robber or member of Al Qaeda?

4. Have you ever tried to lure another person (husband, wife, friend, co-worker) into sharing your winter weather riding addiction?

5. Do you consider a red, runny nose and chin-strap neck chafes badges of honor?

6. Have you waited more than two months for an article of clothing or footwear to be imported from a foreign country so that you could get the warmest article available?

7. Is your idea of winterizing your bike gassing it up and scraping off the road salt?

8. Have you performed internet searches for the perfect stuffed Polar Bear mascot to “ride bitch” on your motorcycle, only to have the poor little devil blow off the back of your bike mid-span on the Raritan bridge?

9. Do you wear so much electrified clothing in colder weather that your magnetic field has picked up stray car bumpers and scrap iron as you ride?

10. Do you enjoy the unique sensation of feeling a chill throughout your body even as the thermostat for your electric clothing is turned all the way up, nearly singeing certain body parts?

11. Do you know what a balaclava is, and do you know how to use one?

12. When geared up for your cold weather rides, does it take you more than 20 minutes to undress for a bathroom break? Does this affect your decision to enjoy a hot beverage on these outings?

13. When you are somewhat tired and chilled on the way home from a lengthy and cold Polar Bear ride, do you concentrate on your goal to keep yourself alert and focused?

If you answered yes to at least two of these questions, you are definitely in danger of becoming a Polar Bear addict (if you are not already one).

As a point of information, this addiction is part of a much larger syndrome – an addiction to AMA Grand Tours in general. I have already found my weakness there, although in previous years this addiction was more limited to the “traditional” riding season. This addiction had kept me away from some club meetings and rides, and caused me to drag my husband and riding companion across three states to some very esoteric and unusual riding destinations, as well as almost making us involuntary participants in a Puerto Rican day parade in Trenton (but that’s a story for another article)…

In all seriousness, my experience with the Polar Bear Grand Tour has been great. You don’t really need to spend a ton of money on electric clothing and such, although I found that I was more comfortable doing so. Many Polar Bear participants ride in good warm gear and do just fine without being “plugged in”. That’s just my personal preference. All you need is the desire to ride, and a little common sense to stay warm and learn what your weather limitations are.

To take that thought a step further, my experiences with all the AMA Grand Tours has been terrific. I have visited many parts of New Jersey (and other states) that I would otherwise not have had any reason to see – and I have learned a great deal. These Grand Tours have taught me some incredible history and local geography. And there are always surprises around every bend in the road – from British a revolutionary war cannon ball embedded in the side of a Quaker meeting house to southern New Jersey’s own tall ship to the astounding array of Ben Franklin’s accomplishments in Philadelphia. Not to mention all the folks I’ve met who are curious about the bike or what I’m doing taking photos of a landmark to which I’ve ridden.


So let me caution you on the potential to get hooked on the Polar Bear riding experience. Try it – you may find that you just can’t give it up. And if cold weather riding is not your cup of tea, think about trying some of the other AMA Grand Tours. There are usually several for you to choose from, the entry fees are not that expensive, and the rewards go way beyond the patch or t-shirt or other physical designation of your achievement. You will gain a greater appreciation for the history/geography/resources in your home state and in your neighboring states.

Ride safe, ride far and enjoy!!!


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