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Motorcycle Winter Riding

Updated on December 20, 2009

Motorcycle Winter Riding

It’s fair to say that being cold on a motorcycle will rob the enjoyment of motorcycling from all but the most hardened (sadistic?) motorcyclist. It’s not fun, even the chill of a cold summers evening after the sun has set can be really unpleasant when you’re miles from your destination. The depths of winter can present a challenging environment for the typical motorcyclist, but with the challenge comes opportunity to refine and hone those riding skills. The challenge is in seeking out heat for comfort and concentration and grip for traction and control - luxuries that are available in abundance in warmer climes.

Continuing to use your bike when the thermometer drops does not have to be a miserable experience but requires a little more consideration in comparison with the usual fair weather outing. First consideration, and perhaps the most obvious is clothing. Decent motorcycle thermal clothing is absolutely necessary in the depths of winter and will have a significant, positive effect on both comfort and concentration.

The main points here are to use thin, air trapping layers underneath a waterproof, windproof and protective outer layer. Technical motorcycle thermal clothing (such as Thinsulate) will help keep the bulk down. Reliance on thermal, windproof and waterproof clothing will extend the period of time for which a motorcyclist is comfortable, however, heat will still dissipate to some degree, until the rider becomes uncomfortably cold. This means you either need to stop and re-heat at appropriate intervals (eg. get off the bike and indoors for a coffee) or invest in some heated clothing liners. Heated clothing provides an excellent solutions if budget and electrical capacity of your bike will permit, allowing replacement of heat which is lost through clothing. Check that the extra electrical current requirements (amps) of any heated equipment does not exceed the current capacity of the bikes alternator. Hands can get cold very quickly on the shortest of trips which can be a real distraction and cases reduced dexterity in clutching, braking and throttling motorcycle heated grips provide an excellent solution which will likely be used year round.

Snow and ice present hazards to even the most experienced motorcyclist which are difficult, if not impossible, to mitigate. These conditions are best avoided by the motorcyclist altogether. With this in mind, it’s important to consult an accurate weather forecast to ensure that conditions at the start of your journey are not predicted to deteriorate and catch you out before your planned return. If you get caught in snowy conditions on a motorcycle, slowing right down is obviously necessary. Smooth and restrained use of the brakes and throttle is necessary to maintain the little traction that’s available, if you are to nurse the bike home. Subtle throttle changes to allow gentle engine braking are preferential than actually using the brakes.

Salt is typically used during winter to counter ice and snow. Road salt brings a couple of issues for the motorcyclist related to corrosion and traction. A build up of road salt, particularly in areas of the road which are untouched by four wheeled vehicles can present traction issues for the motorcyclist and should be added to the list of hazards to be wary of during the winter riding season. Road salt also causes corrosion of the metal parts on your motorcycle, which can increase the wear rate of components and generally be quite unsightly. This corrosion can be troublesome when it comes to performing maintenance at a later date when fasteners and bolts are found to be seized. The best way to counter the corrosive effects of road salt is through frequent washing and liberal application of an anti-corrosive protective barrier - or even some WD40 in critical places. A constant lube device on the motorcycle chain, such as a Scottoiler, is also of particular use when the chain is subject to the more testing conditions of riding through winter.

Reduced visibility, from a decrease in daylight or prevailing weather conditions, is another typical winter hazard. Seeing and being seen are equally important, a good anti-fog visor, or suitable anti-fog coating will assist in keeping your visor clear. High visibility reflective clothing is essential if other road users are to see you in already difficult conditions. A high visibility reflective vest would be ideal. Keeping headlights on dipped beams is also another useful idea for the motorcyclist to increase road presence and visibility.

Ultimately, getting out there and riding slower in the poorer road conditions of winter will make you a quicker, more experienced and competent rider in the better conditions of summer.

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