Winter riding can be a bit tricky. Of course, the weather is sometimes unpredictable, but with a little bit of prep on your end, you can at least make it tolerable – for the most part. Down here in Texas, I don’t think any of us really want to ride in inclement conditions, but I do understand that die-hards North of us brave cooler temps to prolong their riding season. Even for us Texans, it does happen occasionally, and sometimes it’s out of our control whether you must ride or not.
Here are some tips I’ve learned over the years:
- Check weather & road conditions - slow down!
Check the weather reports before you need to ride. Colder temps aren’t too bad if you’re prepared and wet certainly isn’t ideal, but cold and wet is miserable. Try to avoid it, but if you must, please slow down! Traction and visibility will be greatly decreased. Your best bet is to get somewhere warm and dry and wait out the bad weather. Remember that ice formation puts riders at much higher risk than it does vehicles with 4 wheels. So it’s best to avoid riding in freezing temperatures, even if you feel equipped to handle it physically.
- Health of Rider
First and foremost, know your abilities and physical limits. If you think it’s too cold, it probably is. Even if you feel geared up and ready to go, your body might not be. Make sure you stay fed and hydrated. It’s weird to think about, but underneath all your gear, you’ll still sweat. Additionally, going without proper nutrition and hydration affects your brain function and reaction time as well. Winter riding keeps you on your toes - prepare to be alert and focused the best you can.
- Factor in Wind Chill
Riding speed has a massive impact on the air temperature for the rider. In 45 degree weather, you might feel great in your head-to-toe riding gear. However, at just 55mph the wind chill will give you a felt temperature of 25 degrees. Check out the National Weather Service’s wind chill chart below for handy calculations at each temperature and miles-per-hour speed.
- Equipment & Motorcycle Prep
Depending on the bike, winter prep could be as easy as changing fluids, and normal maintenance type things. For some bikes, particularly adventure touring or cruiser bikes, you might need to add things on to make your life a little comfier in the winter months. Think of taller windshields or hand guards to block the wind. Heated grips and seats work wonders and can be wired directly into your bike. If that’s the direction you’re going, make sure it’s on a switched circuit. Otherwise, your grips and seat will be warm in the garage, and drain your battery. Check your manufacturer’s guide or community forums for more details about how to get your bike winter-ready. There is no one-size-fits all checklist for every bike, so make sure you check what’s best for yours. Riders’ experience can be a good guide beyond manufacturer’s tips – some crazy Minnesotans decided to ride a Zero electric motorcycle for all 365 days of a year and they wrote a book about it. That’s not something the manufacturer is going to prepare you for!
- Riding gear – ATGATT!
The set of gear you choose can make all the difference in the world. Layer up! Of course, your outer most garments should be wind and waterproof, but not necessarily insulated. There’s been major advances in materials in the past few years – thinner, warmer mid and base layers are more effective. Plus, you can tailor it to fit your specific needs. If you remember the movie A Christmas Story, you don’t want to look like Randy (the little brother) that was bundled up so tight he couldn’t move or get up after he fell. Don’t be Randy! As a motorcyclist, you still need to be agile enough to ride the bike, regardless of the conditions you’re facing. That said, there are also heated options now too – both battery operated or wired to the bike. I prefer battery powered so I’m not tethered to the bike, but it has its downfalls as well – limited heating capacity in terms of length and temperature. Find a good balaclava as well. That little gap between your helmet and the top of you jacket can make you miserable. Cover up!
Wear all the gear all the time (ATGATT) like your life depends on it – because it probably does! Remember that it is very difficult to predict how cold you will feel once the wind chill hits your body. If you start out feeling uncomfortably sweaty and hot in your gear while standing in your garage, you may still feel cold once you pick up speed on the road. It is safer to plan to crack your shield a little more, and unzip a layer or two than to get stuck with compromised comfort and mobility because you’re frozen to the bone. There’s never been a better time to show off your head-to-toe gear than when riding in cold weather.
I can’t really stress this one enough – check your tire pressure! Certainly, make sure you have plenty of tread on your tires to be able to push out as much of the sand/snow/slush as possible. Check your tire pressures religiously – it’s especially critical in the winter when every little bit counts.
- Towing, just in case
I got this tip from a buddy. It’s certainly a good idea to have a contingency plan. In the event of horrible conditions, or even worse, a crash in horrible conditions, have a way to get home, or at the very least, to a safe, warm place. Contact local towing companies, and make sure they have to ability to tow motorcycles – without destroying them along the way.
The main thing is to think ahead, make time to plan and run extra checks on your gear and personal safety. Riders can enjoy cooler months, but it definitely takes more forethought to ride safely and comfortably. Conditions are way different than the fairer months, to the point it could be detrimental to your health. Y’all stay safe, and happy trails!