- Practice Areas
Many motorcycle riders put their bikes under cover as the weather turns cold and say goodbye to riding until springtime. But with some extra preparation and precautions, you can keep enjoying your motorcycle straight through the winter. Here are a series of smart tips for winter bikers.
Keeping warm is the foremost concern for winter rides. Hypothermia can set in more quickly than you realize, and some of its first effects are to damage your judgment, which can make it difficult to tell that you are getting dangerously cold. (For an example of how quickly a person can become dangerously cold and how easy it can be to miss or ignore the signs, this British journalist recounts his personal experience of near-fatal hypothermia.)
Wearing effective layers are your best protection against the cold. A breathable base layer should trap warm air close to your skin and wick away sweat. Your top layer needs to be windproof to prevent wind chill from stealing away heat. Nylon and leather are good material choices for your outerwear. However many layers you add in between, make sure you still have a good range of motion so you can ride safely.
Don’t make the mistake of wearing warm clothing but leaving your hands and head exposed. If you allow heat to escape here, you risk getting dangerously cold no matter how many layers you wear. Use gauntlet-style gloves to seal up your wrists, which will protect your hands and keep them warm enough to ride safely. A neck warmer or balaclava will keep your neck warm and prevent more heat from escaping.
Electric heated vests and gloves can be a great addition to your winter riding gear, especially if you take long rides in cold weather. These accessories provide heat by hooking into your bike’s electrical system. If you want to use heated gloves or a vest, check your bike’s electrical system to make sure it can handle the extra wattage before plugging in.
Visor fogging is a dangerous possibility in cold weather. To keep your breath from fogging up your visor with condensation, wear a wind-proof balaclava and add a half-mask over the top of it under your helmet. The combination will enable your breath to escape and avoid fogging up your visor. Alternatively, you can invest in a double-visor helmet designed for cold-weather riding, such as the type of helmet used by snowmobile riders.
Directing airflow away from your body will also help you stay warm. If your bike doesn’t have one, consider investing in a functional fairing to help keep you out of some of the wind. The correct shape and size of fairing will depend on both you and your bike, as you need one that is high enough to direct air away from your torso. Stock products may be available for some motorcycles, and you can also have a custom fairing cut for your bike.
Some riders switch to sticky racing tires for warm-weather riding. In cold weather, however, street tires are a better choice. They will provide better grip at lower temperatures. They also warm up more quickly to develop effective grip faster than a race-type tire will.
Especially if you are taking a long ride, plan for breaks at frequent intervals to get out of the wind and warm up. Pushing on when you start to feel cold may be the worst mistake you can make, especially if you don’t realize that your thinking is getting fuzzy or your reaction times are starting to be affected. If you start to feel cold, especially if your hands and feet start becoming numb, get out of the wind, get something hot to drink, and give yourself a chance to get warm – and stay safe.