Winter does not need to be the end of your season as long as you are geared up correctly and you take the appropriate precautions. Your gear needs to reflect the conditions you are riding in. Respect Father Winter.
For many bikers, November is the end of their season, but, for others, the challenge of winter riding is just beginning. Winter riding presents all kinds of obstacles that are not present during what most bikers call the “riding season”, spring through fall. During winter the obvious hazards of snow, sleet, frozen roads, bad weather, and low temperature make riding more challenging and dangerous. However, you shouldn’t think that these hazards will end your season. If you are considering staying on two wheels in the winter, here are my recommendations.
Wear Winter Appropriate Gear
Staying warm on a motorcycle in winter conditions is critical. Getting cold can effect your awareness and decision making while you are on the road. This is especially important because patches of black ice, winter slush, and cold tire issues are constant hazards. Vigilance is your number one ally.
Protect Your Hands
Anyone who has ridden a motorcycle in the cold knows that your hands get cold first. In order to protect your hands, I suggest a high quality winter motorcycle glove like the Tourmaster Cold Tex glove or a similar gauntlet style glove with protective knuckle armor and insulation. I currently wear the First MFG Co. FI188 winter gauntlet glove. It has full leather construction, waterproofing, and an insulated liner. It has held up exceptionally well.
Heated gloves cost substantially more than a general winter glove, however, those who own them swear by them. Heated grips are another solution. I currently run a set of Bikemaster Heated Grip Covers on my Dyna and I love em. They are very affordable, and they are hot as hell. They make a world of difference.
Finally, handguards make up the last layer of hand protection. Handguards also make a huge difference. They keep the freezing blast of wind off your gloves and they also protect your gloves from debris that may damage and tear your gloves. Imagine it is 30 degrees and a rock or piece of road debris that catches your finger while you are on the highway. The gloves protect your skin, but, the gloves tear open. That would make for a very uncomfortable ride to the next shop to buy some new gloves. Instead, you can run a simple bolt on handguard from Barkbuster or Memphis Shades that will keep the wind off your hands, and protect your gloves from debris. I personally use the Memphis Shades handguards and love them.
Protect Your Body
Leaving your core open to the cold while riding presents a great safety risk. If your body’s inner temperature drops you may have serious problems with disorientation and lack of balance. In order to protect that core temperature, I suggest layers or heated gear. A solid base layer like Cycle Gear’s Freeze-Out gear or Under Armor will not only protect you against the cold, it will also wick sweat away from your skin, which will keep you warmer than a cotton long john. A heated jacket will eliminate the need for a base layer, but, it will also cost a lot more. Most heated Jackets cost more than $200.00. I use Cycle Gear’s Freeze-Out and so do all of my other friends that ride in winter.
Over my base layer I wear another layer that reflects how cold it is outside. If it is colder than 30F I will wear a sweat shirt, but, above 30F a long sleeve t shirt or a rugby shirt will do the trick.
On top of my second layer, I generally wear a heavy armored leather jacket, usually my Frist MFG Co Raider jacket. I find that leather provides the best wind blocking of any material, although, the adventure bike riders will fight me on this one. Some of my adventure riding friends swear by textile like the jackets by BMW, Tourmaster, and Klim for cold weather. Advantages to textile include better waterproofing, better insulation, breathability, more pockets, lighter weight, and more adjustability. I’m just old school I guess.
On my legs, I use the same setup as my top, except I wear First MFG Co chaps and the Cycle Gear Freeze-Out bottoms. They have never done me wrong and have protected my legs in all kinds of cold weather. I have heard many arguments against chaps, but, I like their convenience. My other friends wear textile pants and have no issue with their textile gear.
Protect Your Feet
When you ride in the winter, feet get cold quickly. Wear an insulated leather boot with wool socks to protect your feet. You can also upgrade to a motorcycle specific boot that is waterproofed and insulated, but a regular leather boot will do to protect you from the cold. A motorcycle specific boot will be better for protecting your ankles. I wear a set of Carolina work boots that a friend gave me when I used to work in a factory. They have 200g of Thinsulate insulation and they are actually pretty good boots for all four seasons. They are pretty waterproof too, but I suppose they could be better. If you have a good suggestion for a winter boot let me know and put it in the comments!
Winter Riding Road Safety
When you ride in the winter I caution the reader to be alert for winter specific hazards like snow, sleet, ice, potholes, split tar snakes, et cetera. If your bike is carbureted, make sure the motor is warm to the touch before you take off. Riding hard on a cold motor in the winter can cause damage to your piston rings and sleeves, and that’s a real expensive fix if you are not a good wrench. Also, be absolutely sure that your tires are warmed up and gripping the road well before you start to corner aggressively. I actually would caution against hard riding in the cold, period. Slow and steady gets you there in one piece.
Finally, I will recommend a full face helmet in the cold. More heat escapes from your head than any other part of your body. Shielding your eyes against the freezing wind will keep you from squinting. Shielding your mouth from the wind will keep your lips from cracking. And obviously, you will also protect your head!
Winter riding presents alot of difficult hazards, but, learning to navigate them properly, and gearing up for winter riding is a ton of fun. Ride safe and shiny side up!
If readers have other opinions, please share them in the comments below. I would love to learn more about winter riding and am interested in what you have to say.