As fall turns to winter and temperatures spiral downward, seasonal motorcyclists all but disappear from the roadways. Except for possibly venturing out on the rare warm day, their backroad riding passion is put into cold storage along with their bike. This needn’t be the case, but gear and strategies must change with the seasons.
Here are several key areas of focus in order to be a year-round motorcyclist.
In addition to having a properly maintained bike and tires with plenty of tread life remaining, your motorcycle should have:
Adequate Wind Protection
The effect of wind chill during winter weather riding is an important consideration. A full windscreen and fairing will lessen wind chill.
Electrical Outlet for Heated Gear
Wintertime riders need an electrical outlet for connecting heated gear. Heated grips are a given.
A T-shirt and open-face helmet should never be your safety gear, but it’s even less of an option in cold weather. Instead, focus on:
Compensate for fluctuations in weather by having multiple pieces of clothing to keep body temperature in a safe zone. High-tech base layers are very thin, yet they keep you comfortably warm.
Full Face Helmet
Anything less than a full-face helmet will not be comfortable or safe. It’s also helpful to wear a balaklava to keep the head warm. Given the temperature differences inside and outside the helmet, a foggy visor happens often. Many helmets offer a pinlock fog insert, which usually eliminates fogging inside the face shield.
Heated vests, pants, gloves, and even socks can help expand your riding season, but it’s especially important to keep your torso and hands from getting too cold.
No Exposed Skin
Guard against possible frostbite by making use of neck warmers and gauntlet-style, insulated riding gloves. Rain gear can be used in an emergency to help reduce wind chill.
A relatively small change in weather conditions can mean the difference between a safe and pleasant outing and one that becomes uncomfortable and dangerous. Key considerations include:
Forecasts and Riding Judgment
Know the forecasted daytime climate and likelihood of precipitation before leaving; avoid environments that are, or may become, hazardous.
Riding a two-wheeled vehicle on icy roads is obviously unsafe, so monitor ambient air temperature, the possibility of moisture, and road surface conditions throughout the ride.
Stop periodically to warm up inside a building and consume hot liquids to keep your temperature regulated. Once inside, shed your layers so that your body more quickly acclimates to normal room temperature.
Shorter Days/Shorter Distances
Start Later/End Earlier
Consider when to begin and end the ride. Because days are shorter and temperatures plummet rapidly after dark, this usually means traveling only in daylight hours and not starting too early in the morning. Consequently, the planned distance should generally be shorter in winter versus summer.
Direction of Travel
The sun follows a much lower arc to the horizon in the winter. As a result, there is much more glare to deal with when heading east in the morning or west in the afternoon. To the extent possible, plan rides that travel west in the morning and east in the afternoon, and be sure to have appropriate eye protection for riding directly into a rising or setting sun. With proper planning, gear, and judgment, motorcyclists can continue enjoying their two-wheeled passion through much of the colder months. Some winter weather riding enthusiasts, in the coldest climes, go so far as to put studded tires on their snow bike.